Do ELL students need an extra year to learn English?
Since 2002, all third graders in Florida are required to obtain specific statewide reading test scores in order to progress to the fourth grade. A new NBER working paper considers whether this third-grade retention policy, which includes additional teaching and support in reading, might be particularly beneficial for English language learners (ELLs).

David N. Figlio and Umut Özek used longitudinal data for all students between grades three and ten from 12 school districts in Florida in order to examine the short-, medium- and long-term effects of repeating the third grade on ELLs' English skills, as measured by their reading test scores, the length of time needed for them to reach required levels of English proficiency, and their course choice in middle and high school.
The results show that repeating the third grade can help to improve the English skills of ELLs, and the benefits are even greater for ELLs born outside of the U.S., students whose first language is Spanish, and students in lower-poverty elementary schools.
Specifically, they suggest that ELLs who repeat the third grade:
  • do better on reading test scores in elementary and middle school;
  • reach the required levels of English proficiency in half the time;
  • are less likely to take a remedial English course in middle school;
  • are more likely to take an advanced course in math and science in middle school; and
  • are more likely to take college credit-bearing courses in high school.

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