A third-grade test-based promotion requirement led to increases in average test scores in both states
NEW YORK, NY — With the Covid-19 pandemic motivating educators across the country to think about how and to what extent educational standards are imposed upon America’s K-12 students, a new Manhattan Institute issue brief evaluates the effects of requiring students to score above a minimum threshold on standardized tests in order to move to the next grade. The findings from Manhattan Institute senior fellow Marcus Winters and Helios Vice President of Research and Evaluation Paul Perrault indicate that requiring third-grade students in Florida and Arizona to meet a minimum threshold on standardized tests in order to proceed to fourth grade led to a statistically significant and meaningful increase in average third-grade test scores in both states.
Sixteen states and several urban districts require students to score above a minimum threshold on standardized tests in order to move past one or more “gateway grades” into the next grade—usually from third to fourth grade. Most studies of these policies evaluate the effect of retention on later student outcomes, but this new research rectifies a deficiency in the literature, focusing on the effects such policies have on student and school performance in advance of the test.
Applying a “difference-in-difference” statistical technique to statewide longitudinal school-by-grade data from Florida and Arizona, and to longitudinal student-level data from a large public school district (Hillsborough County, Florida) to investigate the effect of introducing a third-grade test-based promotion requirement on third-grade test scores, the report finds that enacting the policy led to an increase in average third-grade test scores in both states, with the magnitude of the effect very similar across the two states despite differences in the policies. Further, state-level data from public schools in Hillsborough County, where the school district independently tested second-grade students, suggested that the effect of adopting the policy on third-grade test scores was similar for students regardless of their reading ability at the end of second grade.