The Effects of Test-based Retention on Student Outcomes over Time: Regression Discontinuity Evidence from Florida

Guido Schwerdt, Martin R. West, Marcus A. Winters

NBER Working Paper No. 21509
Issued in August 2015
NBER Program(s):   ED

Many American states require that students lacking basic reading proficiency after third grade be retained and remediated. We exploit a discontinuity in the probability of retention under Floridas test-based promotion policy to study the causal effect of retention on student outcomes over time. Although OLS estimates suggest negative effects on achievement, regression discontinuity estimates indicate large positive achievement effects and reduced retention probabilities in future years. After six years, the achievement gains from retention fade out entirely when retained students are compared to their same-age peers, but remain substantial when compared to peers in the same grade. Contrary to prior research based on observational data, we find that early grade retention has no effect on the probability that students graduate from high school.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w21509

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