NY City Changes Retention Policy

K-12 Testing

When New York City’s schools decided to hold back potentially tens of thousands of students based solely on their scores on the Comprehensive Tests of Basic Skills (CTBS; see related story), the non-profit group Advocates for Children filed suit. The plaintiffs pointed out that the Board of Education’s written policies stated that a student could only be retained on the basis of a full individual evaluation. If the city followed its own rules, nearly 40,000 such evaluations would have had to be conducted at the close of last school year.

The court has not yet rendered a decision. However, the city did change its regulations.

The new regulations require schools to determine promotion through use of a composite of test scores, teacher evaluation of student work against standards, and attendance. No one of the three would act as a single hurdle.

Activists have warned that some schools may still use the test as the sole criterion for promotion. School department officials informed FairTest that they will push hard to have schools focus on standards and professional development for teachers so that they do not give too much weight to test scores.

While this is a significant improvement over a test-score only policy, many advocates remain concerned since research evidence overwhelmingly shows that grade retention hurts, rather than helps, academic achievement (see Examiner Fall 1998).

- For a FairTest fact sheet on testing and grade retention, click here.