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Paul L. Thomas pushes back on third grade retention practices

Paul L. Thomas, Department of Education.

Last updated September 11, 2023

By Tina Underwood

Furman University’s Paul Thomas joins Gray Television’s Local News Live to discuss why retaining third graders who don’t pass standardized tests is a bad idea. Thomas, a longtime education professor, says the practice of retaining third graders “does have a positive effect on test scores because you’re removing the students who are most likely to score low, but you are adding them back in one year later. So, states can get a bump in third and fourth grade testing of reading from retention.” But, he says, that bump is a “mirage” because in places where there’s a bump in scores, it disappears by the eighth grade. He also cites research pointing to a strong correlation between grade retention and school drop-out rates.

Instead of retention, Thomas says more attention needs to be paid to the overarching problem of poverty and inequity in children’s lives and in their respective schools.

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