Peer contexts: Do old for grade and retained peers influence student behavior in middle school?
Background: Many school systems have ended social promotion by implementing accountability systems where students who fail academic assessments are retained in grade. Additionally, some parents have delayed their children's entry into school, believing that older students have an advantage. While research has examined outcomes for students who were retained or old for grade, it is not clear whether the presence of old for grade or retained peers influences the behavior of other students in the school. Purpose: This study analyzes the association between the presence of old for grade and retained peers and the propensity for seventh graders to engage in deviant behaviors and receive an out-of-school suspension. Then, we examine whether some students are more vulnerable to peer influences associated with having retained and older peers. Subjects: This study employs administrative data from the 2000-2001 academic year on all seventh-grade students in North Carolina traditional classrooms in traditional middle schools with a grade range of 6 to 8.The sample is 79,314 seventh-grade students in 334 schools in 94 districts. Research Design: We use a logit framework to analyze dichotomous outcomes: whether students had ever been reported for committing an infraction, and whether students had ever been suspended over the academic year. Then, we use negative binomial models to examine the number of infractions students committed. We employ fixed effects estimation models for both the logit and the negative binomial analyses to account for unmeasured covariates at the district level. Results: Seventh-grade students who attend school with many old for grade or retained peers are more likely to commit offenses and be suspended. Retained and old for grade students are more vulnerable to these peer influences than other students. Girls and White students are more vulnerable to peer effects of having retained and old for grade students in their grade. Conclusions: We find an increase in negative behavior across all students who have higher levels of retained and old for grade peers. Increased opportunities to interact with deviant peers can influence the behavior of youth who do not share the same risk factors for deviant behavior. Thus, grade retention and delayed school-entry policies can influence the entire school community. Policies that help students stay on track academically have the potential not only to benefit students who are at risk for academic failure, but also to enhance the positive behavior of other students in the grade.
Muschkin, CG; Glennie, E; Beck, AN
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