In this study, researchers from Teachers College at Columbia University analyzed data from a cohort of 77,501 New York City public school students who entered ninth grade in 2005, seeking connections between students’ high school outcomes and college persistence and their achievement, background characteristics, and school environments. Two findings stand out among many: First, students who failed New York’s third-grade reading exam had significantly lower odds of graduating high school than their peers who passed. Of those who failed third-grade reading, barely one in three graduated high school, compared to a 90 percent graduation rate among those who passed. Second, for the students who did graduate from high school, the type of diploma earned was the strongest predictor of college enrollment and persistence one year after matriculation. (New York State awards three diplomas—local, Regents, and Advanced Regents—each with different requirements.) Less than one-third of the graduates who earned a local diploma enrolled in college in Fall 2009 and were still enrolled in Spring 2010. This rate is well below those who earned either a Regents (50 percent enrolled and persisted) or an Advanced Regents diploma (80 percent). Given the findings, the researchers suggest that the “conventional assumptions” about school “need to be re-examined.” Perhaps buttressed by their third-grade reading finding, one area the authors urge states and schools to re-think is the grouping of students into grade levels based primarily on age rather than ability. And indeed, some states have gone beyond re-examining—and are in fact dismantling the “social promotion” convention. For example, fourteen states (among them Ohio, Fordham’s home state) have established third-grade retention policies that require children to pass their reading exam before their school can promote them to fourth grade. This report provides further evidence that these states have made a smart policy choice in their “third-grade reading guarantees” and that more states should adopt an early-grade retention policy.

SOURCE: Douglas Ready, Thomas Hatch, Miya Warner, and Elizabeth Chu, The Experience of One New York City High School Cohort: Opportunities, Successes, and Challenges (New York, NY: Teachers College, Columbia University, October 2013).

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