Study: Retention didn’t distort citywide test scores

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The retention of low-scoring students in 3rd, 6th and 8th grades did not inflate citywide reading and math scores in elementary schools, according to a study by the Consortium on Chicago School Research. Last spring, the Chicago School Reform Board announced that the percentage of 3rd- through 8th-graders scoring at or above the national norms in reading was 34.7 percent, the highest percentage since the 1980s. The greatest gains were in the three retention grades and the grades immediately after them. Noting this, Catalyst and others speculated that retention had artificially inflated the scores.

However, the new Consortium study found that retention did not “seriously distort” the 1998 results on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills.

The Consortium found that the scores of retained students were so low that, contrary to Catalyst speculation, they depressed the citywide totals in 3rd, 6th and 8th grade. For example, when the reading scores of 4,120 retained students were removed from 3rd grade, the average score increased by about a month, from 3.17 to 3.26—3.2 represents the second month of 3rd grade.

Recalibrating the scores of retained 3rd- and 6th-graders for inclusion in the 4th and 7th grades, the Consortium found that the totals in those grades indeed benefitted from retention. For example, the average reading score for 4th-graders dropped by about 2 months—from 4.33 to 4.14—when the recalibrated scores of retained 3rd-graders were included.

“But even after these adjustments, the overall systemwide scores are still up from 1997,” the Consortium reported.

“Overall, the 1998 reading scores for the CPS system remain about the same after being adjusted for the effects of retained students,” the Consortium found. “Before the adjustment, 34.3 percent of students scored at or above national norms in reading; after the adjustment, the number is 34.4 percent. Both of these numbers are higher than 1997, when 30.3 percent of students were at or above national norms.”

The Consortium did not study the impact of 8th-grade retention on 9th-grade scores because 9th-graders take different tests, the Tests of Achievement and Proficiency.