Fewer than four out of ten students had sequential grade promotion from first to eighth grade, report finds

The Institute for Education and Social Policy (IESP) at New York University this week released a report that suggests that, for the students who entered first grade in New York City public schools in the1995-96 school year, standard academic progress was the exception rather than the rule. The report, “From One to Eight: A Longitudinal Portrait of the First Grade Class of 1995-1996,” describes the academic pathways of more than 86,000 students during their first eight years in the New York City public school system. Using student-level data supplied by the New York City Department of Education, the researchers sought to answer such questions as: who stays and who leaves? Who is held back? And what are the outcomes for each of these groups?

Among the report’s findings are:

  • Less than six of ten students who enrolled in first grade in 1995-96 and were not in full-time special education, were still attending NYC public schools eight years later.
  • Fewer than four out of ten students had sequential grade promotion from first to eighth grade.
  • Almost one in ten students had been retained at least once.
  • Among exiting students, three out of ten had been retained or were enrolled one grade below their expected grade upon exit.
  • The proportion of white and Asian students among those who made standard academic progress was higher than among other ethnic groups.
  • Discontinuous enrollment and being retained was associated with poor academic outcomes, including lower attendance and lower test scores.

Reporters interested in downloading the PDF of the report can visit http://steinhardt.nyu.edu/scmsAdmin/uploads/001/402/IESPBrief_from%20one%20to%20eight.pdf. Those interested in speaking with Amy Ellen Schwartz, director of IESP, can contact Tim Farrell at the NYU Office of Public Affairs by phone at 212.998.6797 or via email, tim.farrell@nyu.edu.

The report notes that the primary school years of almost two-thirds of children who begin first grade in NYC will include retention, participation in special education, and/or enrollment in private schools and/or schools in other school districts.

Second, given the limited number of the first grade cohort who were enrolled as eighth graders eight years later, the success or failure of policies and programs provided in the early grades and aimed at improving high school readiness cannot be measured by the performance of the eighth grade class as a whole.

“The study reveals the importance of inter-district mobility and, thus, the importance of state funding for early childhood interventions,” said Amy Ellen Schwartz, director of IESP and professor of public policy, economics, and education at NYU. “A substantial portion of eighth graders will have entered New York City schools after the first grade. Student attrition means that a significant amount of the impact of early grade programs will be felt in schools other than those in the NYC district where students are ultimately enrolled.”

Finally, while virtually all of the retained students are poor, highlighting the link between poverty and academic success, demographic differences between students who exit prior to high school and those who remain are, on average, relatively small. There are, however, consistent differences in their performance on standardized tests. Exiting students earn lower scores than those who stay; this disparity is larger at higher grades. Thus, the evidence does not support the conventional hypothesis that the “best” students leave.

IESP is a joint initiative of the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development and the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at NYU. IESP conducts non-partisan scientific research about U.S. education and related social issues.

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