Amanda Ripley

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Repeating the Same Mistakes?

2nd Aug 2011 posted in Education

So now we know what does happen in top countries (including some standardized testing in Finland and some union conflict in South Korea), despite what we keep hearing.

What doesn’t happen?

One major difference, about which we hear far too little, is that kids virtually never repeat grades in Finland or South Korea. Now this is counter-intuitive in a way. Isn’t it better to repeat a grade than to promote a student who isn’t ready? Don’t kids benefit from the extra year of schooling?

Not so says a new PISA In Focus Report. High rates of grade repetition are not associated with better performance; they are associated with higher costs per student.

“PISA 2009 shows that countries with high rates of grade repetition are also those that show poorer student performance. Some 15% of of the variation in performance among OECD countries can be explained by differences in the rates of grade repetition, and students’ socio-economic background is more strongly associated with performance in these countries, regardless of the country’s wealth.”

When a country transfers a large percentage of students to another school, whether for low achievement or behavior issues, overall performance suffers again. Even though such a transfer is supposed to send a student to a school that can better deal with their individual learning needs, the PISA 2009 results point out an unfortunate irony:

“[...]transferring students tends to be associated with socio-economic segregation in school systems, where students from advantaged backgrounds end up in better-performing schools while students from disadvantaged backgrounds end up in poorer-performing schools.”

Happily, transferring, repeating or suffering are not the only options. Or they shouldn’t be. In countries with low rates of transfers, teachers have more autonomy to determine the best curriculum for different kids and better training to know how to do so effectively. In those countries, schools with the most poverty and other challenges also tend to receive the most resources.