05 SES 03 A, Grade Repetition, Connectedness and Minority Language Students
Although grade repetition is mostly negative for students’ educational trajectories (Jimerson, 2001), it is frequently practiced in many educational systems. Failing a school year increases students’ risk of dropout (Manacorda, 2012), but repeating the first year of secondary school is particularly critical (Roderick, 1994). It concurs with early adolescence, a time when grade repetition – and the consequent loss of the peer group of reference – is strongly associated with a reduction in students’ psychosocial well-being (Mathys, Véronneau, & Lecocq, 2019).
In Latin American schools, repetition rates in lower secondary education are particularly high (Bassi, Busso, & Muñoz, 2015). While the average repetition rate by age 15 in OECD countries is 11%, over one third of the Uruguayan students (35%) have experienced grade repetition by this age (OECD, 2016). In 2019, a fifth of those enrolled in regular schools and two fifths of those enrolled in vocational schools repeated the first year of secondary education in Uruguay (ANEP, n.d.).
Grade repetition literature focuses mainly on the effects of repeating a year, particularly on its academic consequences (Bonvin, Bless, & Schuepbach, 2008). Research on predictors of grade repetition emphasizes prior schooling and individual and family characteristics. Previous grade repetition, low academic achievement, behavioral problems or school absenteeism increase the probability of grade repetition (Agostin & Bain, 1997; Ferrão, Costa, & Matos, 2017; Taniguchi, 2015). Repetition is more likely among students from families with a lower socio-economic status (SES) and somewhat more frequent for boys than for girls (Choi, Gil, Mediavilla, & Valbuena, 2018).
Corresponding with the predominant research focus on individual determinants and repeaters’ profiles (e.g., Liddell & Rae, 2001) is the idea that it is not the school but the student who is responsible for repeating a grade. Nevertheless, research showing that schools make a difference in students’ outcomes can already be traced back to the US report on Equality of Educational Opportunity (Coleman, 1966), which states the influence of student factors may vary according to the characteristics of the secondary school the student enrolls in. Particularly, the school’s socioeconomic composition (SES composition) significantly impacts students’ achievement, beyond their individual characteristics (van Ewijk & Sleegers, 2010), and may thus also influence other student outcomes, including grade repetition. This socioeconomic composition is positively associated with student’s learning and attainment (Palardy, 2013).
Some research argues compositional school effects on academic outcomes, including that of SES composition (Zimmer & Toma, 2000), are higher for students showing lower achievement (Summers & Wolfe, 1977). Since previous low achievement increases the probability of grade retention (Choi et al., 2018), understanding how this previous achievement interacts with the current school’s SES composition in influencing students’ chances of success or failure (grade repetition) seems important.
In this study, we aim to contribute to the scarce literature on institutional/school predictors of grade repetition by investigating if and in which way the secondary school’s SES composition affects students’ chances of first-year success. We also explore potential differential effects of students’ previous academic achievement according to their secondary school’s SES composition. Results are discussed in the framework of comparative reference group theory (Merton, 1968).
The database (n=36,754) results from matching, by student ID number, administrative registries from the Uruguayan Primary and Initial Education Council’s (CEIP) 2015 grade 6 graduating cohort with registries from the student cohort entering public secondary schools in 2016 upon graduation from CEIP schools. Geo-referenced community violence data (number of homicides and violent robberies in the school’s immediate surroundings) was obtained from the Ministry of Interior and linked to the secondary schools in our database using UTM coordinates. The 36,754 students are nested in 1,628 primary schools, as well as in 349 secondary schools. Yet primary and secondary schools are not nested in one-another: students may attend any combination of primary and secondary schools. Hence, a two-way cross-classified logistic regression analysis was conducted. Seven models were estimated using ‘lme4’ package in R software. In all cases, the dependent variable was grade repetition in the first year of secondary education (binary: students either pass or fail – repeat – that year). The null model only included primary and secondary school-specific random effects, modelling the variation between primary and between secondary schools in students’ success rates during the first year in secondary school. The SES composition of the secondary schools, our main variable of interest, was entered in Model 1. Model 2 included other secondary school variables related to the school’s SES composition (track, community violence) or to grade repetition (school size). In Model 3, to check for possible carry-over effects, we added the SES composition of the primary school each student graduated from. Model 4 introduced the student’s family SES, also to control that we are dealing indeed with compositional school SES effects. Individual (gender) and prior schooling (repetition experience, achievement, behavior, absences) variables known to be related to grade repetition, were added in Model 5. Last, in Model 6 we added a cross-level interaction to investigate if and to what extent the secondary school’s SES composition moderates the effect of students’ previous achievement on their success or failure in the first year of secondary education.
The bivariate analysis shows a positive effect of the secondary school’s SES composition in students’ first-year success. While related school factors (track, size, community violence) do not affect this association, the effect becomes negative once the longitudinal primary school’s SES composition is considered. Enrolment in secondary schools with a higher average SES increases students’ chances of grade repetition. Comparative reference group theory provides a possible explanation. Pass/repeat decisions are affected by the students’ peer group which teachers take as a reference for comparison. In secondary school, where subject-specific teachers are assigned to several groups, comparisons take place at school-level. A student with a given level of academic performance will be rewarded with better scores, and be more likely to succeed, in a school with weaker performing students, than in one with high-achieving peers. In absence of standardized indicators of student achievement and learning, both scores and pass/repeat decisions are the responsibility of the classroom teachers. A student’s individual chances of success increase as the SES composition – and therefore also the average academic achievement – of the school lowers. Although SES-composition is positively associated with learning and test results, accreditation and learning do not always seem to go hand in hand. Repetition rates alone may therefore not be the best indicator of school effectiveness. Student-level variables affect first-year grade retention in ways consistent with previous literature. The negative interaction between the secondary school’s SES composition and the student’s grade 6 achievement score indicates this compositional effect is somewhat greater for students who evidence previous lower achievement and enter secondary school at higher risk of failure. The significance of the compositional school effects, particularly for low-achievement students, warns against segregation mechanisms in school settings, to which educational policies may contribute, e.g. locating new schools or assigning students to schools.
Agostin, T. & Bain, S. (1997). Predicting early school success with developmental and social skills screeners. Psychology in the Schools, 34(3), 219-228. ANEP (n.d.). Observatorio de la educación. Bassi, M., Busso, M., & Muñoz, J. (2015). Enrollment, graduation, and dropout rates in Latin America: is the glass half empty or half full? Economía, 16(1), 115-156. Bonvin, P., Bless, G., & Schuepbach, M. (2008). Grade retention: decision-making and effects on learning as well as social and emotional development. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 19(1), 1-19. Choi, A., Gil, M., Mediavilla, M., & Valbuena, J. (2018). Predictors and effects of Grade Repetition. Revista de economía mundial, 48, 21-42. Coleman, J. S. (1966). Equality of educational opportunity. Washington DC: U.S.Gov. Printing Office. Ferrão, M. E., Costa, P. M., & Matos, D. A. S. (2017). The relevance of the school socioeconomic composition and school proportion of repeaters on grade repetition in Brazil: a multilevel logistic model of PISA 2012. Large-scale Assessments in Education, 5(1), 7. Jimerson. (2001). Meta-analysis of grade retention research: Implications for practice in the 21st century. School Psychology Review, 30(3), 420-438. Liddell, C., & Rae, G. (2001). Predicting early grade retention: a longitudinal investigation of primary school progress in a sample of rural South African children. British Journal of Educcational Psychology, 71(Pt 3), 413-428. Manacorda, M. (2012). The cost of grade retention. Review of Economics and Statistics, 94(2), 596-606. Mathys, C., Véronneau, M.-H., & Lecocq, A. (2019). Grade Retention at the Transition to Secondary School: Using Propensity Score Matching to Identify Consequences on Psychosocial Adjustment. 39(1), 97-133. Merton, R. (1968). Social theory and social structure: Simon and Schuster. OECD. (2016). PISA 2015 Results (Vol.II). Palardy, G. (2013). High School Socioeconomic Segregation and Student Attainment. American Educational Research Journal, 50(4), 714-754. Roderick, M. (1994). Grade Retention and School Dropout: Investigating the Association. American Educational Research Journal, 31(4), 729-759. Summers, A., & Wolfe, B. (1977). Do Schools Make a Difference? The American Economic Review, 67(4), 639-652. Taniguchi, K. (2015). Determinants of grade repetition in primary school in sub-Saharan Africa: An event history analysis for rural Malawi. International Journal of Educational Development, 45, 98-111. van Ewijk, R., & Sleegers, P. (2010). The effect of peer socioeconomic status on student achievement: A meta-analysis. Educational Research Review, 5(2), 134-150. Zimmer, R. W., & Toma, E. F. (2000). Peer effects in private and public schools across countries. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 19(1), 75-92.
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