Type: Seminar

The Impacts of Grade Retention: Evidence from New York City

Open to PhD students and faculty engaged in causal inference in education research


Paco Martorell, Associate Professor of Education, University of California-Davis

Date & time

Nov 29, 2017, 8:30-10:00 am EST



A growing number of localities have implemented policies that utilize assessment scores in student grade promotion decisions. This study examines the impact of grade retention in New York City elementary and middle schools on high school performance and completion. During the study period, students who scored poorly on a spring standardized test were required to attend summer school. Among those assigned to summer school, grade retention was largely determined by whether the student scored below an end-of-summer assessment cutoff. We use a fuzzy regression discontinuity design based on the summer assessment score to examine the causal effects of grade retention on high school outcomes. We find that grade retention in middle school grades reduces high school credit accumulation and increases dropout, and we also find suggestive evidence of negative effects on high school graduation. Elementary grade retention has smaller effects on high school outcomes. Retention also reduces the likelihood that students take Regents exams, but among those who do take the tests, scores are higher for retained students. We also explore potential mechanisms by estimating effects on “intermediate” outcomes, and find that grade retention increases future special education placement and reduces retention in future grades. For elementary school students, retention results in attending somewhat smaller classes with higher-scoring peers.

About the Speaker

Paco Martorell is an Assistant Professor in the UC Davis School of Education. Martorell completed his PhD in economics at UC Berkeley. Prior to moving to UC Davis, he was an Economist at the RAND Corporation and was a professor at the Pardee RAND Graduate School since 2006. He has broad research interests in both higher education and K-12 policy. Current projects cover areas including developmental education in colleges, the effects of grade retention, the returns to for-profit colleges, the impacts of school facility investments, and community college tuition subsidies. He also has conducted research on health care including studies examining the economic costs of dementia as well as research on the economic and educational consequences of military service.


The objective of the Causal Inference in Education Research Seminar (CIERS) is to engage students and faculty from across the university in conversations around education research using various research methodologies. This seminar provides a space for doctoral students and faculty from social science disciplines to discuss current research and receive feedback on works-in-progress. Discourse across schools and departments creates a more complete community of education scholars, and provides a networking opportunity for students enrolled in a variety of academic programs who share common research interests.

Our regular meeting schedule is Wednesday mornings from 8:30 to 10 am in Weill 1210. Check out our website to learn more and to sign up for the mailing list.