Impacts of school remediation policy
How do test-based remediation policies affect educational outcomes for low-performing students?
It is a common response of school systems across the world to provide students who are struggling with additional resources and special attention.
But in a paper in the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, authors David Figlio and Umut Ozek show that these resources may come at an unintended cost. If students are sorted into classes with lower-achieving peers based on test scores (a practice known as tracking), it might hinder their ability to pursue more advanced study later.
The authors’ findings are based on an analysis of Florida’s middle school remediation policy, which requires students who score below the proficient level on prior year reading or math tests to be placed on a remedial schedule.
Using data from twelve of Florida’s county-level school districts, the researchers compared students just above the proficiency cutoff to those just below it.
Figure 5 shows the impact of those cutoffs on the likelihood of taking advanced courses in English/language arts (ELA), math, and other subjects later in a student’s career.
Figure 5 from Figlio and Ozek (2024)
The x-axis in each panel represents either reading or math test scores relative to the proficiency cutoff, indicated by the vertical line. The solid black lines represent White students, the dashed black lines represent Black students, and the gray dotted lines represent Hispanic students. The shaded areas are 95 percent confidence intervals.
Panels A and C show that there is a significant drop in the probability that students take advanced courses in ELA or another subject if they score just below the cutoff. There is a similar drop for remedial math scores in Panels B and D, although the impact on taking advanced courses in subjects other than math is less pronounced.
Black students in particular were most likely to be affected by the test-based remediation policy. Scoring below the cutoff in reading reduced a Black student’s chance of taking an advanced ELA course by 17 percentage points, an advanced math course by 6 percentage points, an advanced science course by 9 percentage points, and an advanced social studies course by 10 percentage points.
The authors’ work shows that while students who need more help are getting more resources in Florida, the implementation of these policies may lead to some negative outcomes related to tracking. The findings suggest that parents, teachers, and administrators should keep these unintended consequences in mind so that remedial resources can be provided without segregating students.
“The Unintended Consequences of Test-Based Remediation” appears in the January 2024 issue of the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics.