Shane Jimerson, a professor at the University of California-Santa Barbara who researches retention, said holding students back produces a short-term boost in productivity but is a long-term detriment. Retained children can suffer social problems because they reach puberty earlier than classmates and can feel stigmatized.
“Having a law with a retention mandate is akin to education malpractice,” Jimerson said.
He criticized the Harvard study, partly because it measured only academic success rather than a combination of social, mental health and academic effects.
But he and Martin West, co-author of the Harvard study, agree that additional reading aid is essential to helping struggling students.
The key question is, how much intervention, and at what cost?
Rescue costs: Oklahoma’s law prescribes ways for schools to help students who don’t read well.
The methods include regular monitoring, more in-school time spent on reading, tutoring and drawing up a reading curriculum. For students who fail, schools can reduce teacher-student ratios, use small-group learning, extend the school day or provide summer reading academies.
Most of those cost money. But intervention costs far less than the extra $8,000-plus for each student who repeats third grade.
Oklahoma’s reading act came with additional funding, but recent appropriations have dried up.
Schools received $6.2 million for K-3 reading intervention in fiscal 2012 but nothing in 2013, so many schools carried over part of the 2012 funding.
State Superintendent Janet Barresi is seeking $6.5 million for the Reading Sufficiency Act for the rest of 2013 and $6.2 million for 2014. The state also has about $4 million in federal money for teacher training.
Mark Twain Elementary received about $8,000 in carried-over reading-act funding, which Teas said she is using for teacher salaries during the winter intersession. That intersession is free for students, but availability is limited, depending on how many teachers the school can afford to pay.