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Study Finds Bias in Florida Exemptions for Promotion


Researchers at the University of Arkansas found evidence of discrimination in how schools grant exemptions from a test-based promotions system.

The university announced that the researchers found that African American and Hispanic students with the same background, skills and income status as non-Hispanic white students were less likely to receive an exemption from the retention policy.  When compared to the white students, African Americans were 4 percent more likely to be retained in a grade and Hispanic students 9 percent more likely.

The researchers found that students who were held back a grade had outperformed those who received an exemption, indicating that, on average, exemptions have not been granted to those individuals who would benefit from promotion, the researchers wrote.

Jay P. Greene and Marcus A. Winters said they examined data for Florida third-graders from the years 2001 to 2004 to evaluate whether exemptions to the retention policy were applied consistently and to measure the impact of being exempted on reading performance in later grades.

The results of their research are published in the February issue of Economics of Education Review in an article, The Effects of Exemptions to Florida’s Test-based Promotion Policy: Who is Retained? Who Benefits Academically? Greene holds an endowed chair and is head of the department of education reform in the College of Education and Health Professions at the UA.. Winters recently received a doctorate in economics at the UA.

The irony is that although there appears to be discrimination in how Florida schools grant exemptions to the promotion policy, but the students who suffered from that discrimination benefited academically, Greene said.

When researchers compared the fifth grade reading test scores for students who had been retained in the third grade and those who had been granted an exemption, they found that those students who had received an exemption had significantly lower reading test scores than the students who had been held back.

The results suggest that students who were exempted from the policy probably did not have the skills necessary to achieve in later grades, the researchers concluded. That is, students who received an exemption seem to hit a brick wall and make very small test score gains in the more difficult fifth grade. Further research is necessary to evaluate whether these exempted students continue to struggle and fall further behind their peers in later, even more difficult grades.

While supporting an exemption provision, Greene advocates more accurately identifying students who will benefit from exemption. He said the results raise the question of why schools are organized by age rather than by skills or other methods.

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