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About the Data - Retention

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Overview

Retention occurs when a student has not made sufficient progress over the course of the school year to be promoted to a higher grade level. Retention rates for students enrolled in Wisconsin public schools are available on the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) Website.

Where to Find Data about Retention
School Years  WISEdash   School District 
 Performance Report 
 WINSS Historical 
 Data Files 
Beginning with 2007-08 -- X --
1996-97 through 2006-07 -- -- X

WINSS Data Analysis was a key source of DPI data about retention until spring 2015 when the retention data for 2013-14 and statewide download files for 2007-08 and beyond were added to the School District Performance Report (SDPR).

Retention rates are reported annually for all school districts and all nondistrict charter schools statewide as part of the SDPR. Below you will find detailed background information, definitions, and related links to facilitate use and appropriate interpretation of these data on the DPI Website.


Cautions

  • In 2004-05, the School Performance Report Retention Collection was replaced by the Individual Student Enrollment System (ISES). Major changes were made in the way data were submitted, the criteria for counting retentions were made more explicit, and the formula for calculating retention rates changed. As a result:
    • 2004-05 retention rates should be interpreted with caution because they rely on multiple data elements that were submitted in a new way in 2004. These data were not comprehensive and, consequently, did not reflect reality for some districts. Statewide rates were also significantly affected that year.
    • 2005-06 ISES retention rates are believed to be more reliable than 2004-05 ISES retention rates. However, ISES implementation in some districts was more difficult than in other districts and there are likely to be some continuing data reliability issues in 2005-06.
    • Due to ISES transition issues, increases and decreases in reported retention rates from 2003-04 to 2004-05 and 2004-05 to 2005-06 may not always reflect actual increases or decreases in these rates.
    • Although criteria for counting retentions are less ambiguous than criteria used in the past, districts continue to have substantial flexibility to establish local grade level placement policies. Retention is an indicator of grade level progression and does not provide a comparable measure of student progress across districts.
  • Prior to 2004-05, the retention rate formula used data from different collections as of different dates so these pre-2004-05 rates should be interpreted as estimates.

Definitions of Key Terms

For definitions, see the WISEdash Glossary (includes terms used in SDPR and WINSS).


Calculating Rates

Retention Rates

Beginning with 2004-05, retention rates are calculated by dividing the number of K-12 retentions at the end of the school term by the K-12 count of "students who completed that school term". Prior to 2004-05, the retention rate was calculated by dividing the number of K-12 retentions at the the end of the school term by the K-12 fall enrollment (collected in the PI-1290) for that school term. Retention rates are calculated for K-12 only. K-12 includes (5-year-old) kindergarten through grade 12. For more information about how ISES calculates retention rates (aligned with public reporting), see ISES Progress & Summary Reports - Promotion/Retention .

Note: Grade 12 students with disabilities who complete the school term but who are retained (i.e. did not complete high school) are neither counted in numerator nor denominator of the retention rate formula.

Counting Retentions

Retention, promotion, and high school completion decisions are typically based on the student's academic progress/status as of end of the school term. Criteria for counting retentions were made more explicit in 2004-05 with the implementation of ISES, reducing differences in local interpretation of the retention definition. In ISES, retentions are counted based primarily on year-to-year changes in grade level placement. For students with the most significant cognitive disabilities, grade level placement is typically based on age. Some local flexibility is provided in submitting retention/promotion data for interdistrict transfer students to account for allowable local differences in grade level placement criteria used for ISES purposes.

The following students do not count as "retentions" in the retention rate formula: (1) any student who qualifies for promotion or exits with a high school completion credential, (2) any grade 12 student with disabilities who both completes the school term and is retained (i.e. did not complete high school), and (3) any student who has not yet reached the (5-year-old) kindergarten grade level.

Counting Students Who Completed the School Term

Generally, students enrolled in a school at the end of the spring semester are counted as completing the school term at that school.

The following students do not count as "students who completed the school term" in the retention rate formula: (1) any grade 12 student with disabilities who both completes the school term and is retained (i.e. did not complete high school) and (2) any student who has not yet reached the (5-year-old) kindergarten grade level.


Data Changes Over Time

Prior to 2004-05

  • Special provisions applied to counting retentions in high school grades. If at the end of any school year prior to 2004-05 a high school student had a deficit of credits equal to or more than one-seventh of the district's high school graduation requirement, the student was counted as a retention. The assumption is that at the end of a given school year, a student would have accumulated at least one fourth of the credits required to graduate. For example, if 20 credits are required to graduate, a student on track toward graduation in four years would have five credits at the end of his/her freshman year, ten credits at the end of his/her sophomore year, and 15 credits at the end of his/her junior year.
  • the retention rate was calculated by dividing the number of K-12 retentions at the the end of the school term by the K-12 fall enrollment (collected in the PI-1290) for that school term.
  • Disaggregated retention data are available in WINSS historical data files by gender, by race/ethnicity, and by grade level.

2004-05 through 2006-07

  • Disaggregation options are expanded in WINSS historical data files to include retention data by disability, economic, and English proficiency status.

Beginning with 2004-05

  • Grade level progression is based on changes in grade level placement submitted by districts in ISES. In high school grades, grade level placements submitted by districts are based in part on earning a minimum number of credits towards graduation consistent with past criteria for counting retentions.
  • The retention rate is calculated by dividing the number of K-12 retentions at the end of the school term by the K-12 count of students who completed that school term.

Beginning with 2007-08

  • SDPR is the primary source of data about retention rates. SDPR retention data are available for the "all students" group only.
  • Retention data by student group (e.g. by gender, race/ethnicity, grade level, disability status, etc) are available from a secure website (WISEdash for Districts).

Data Sources

Prior to 2003-04, counts of students retained by grade, gender, race/ethnicity, and district/school were based on the School Performance Report Collection. Retention rates used "Total enrollment" by gender, race/ethnicity, grade, and district/school from the PI 1290 fall enrollment collection.

Beginning with 2004-05, all data used in the calculation of retention rates are based on data collected by the Individual Student Enrollment System (ISES). More specifically, counts of retentions and students who completed the school term, demographics, and accountable district/school are based on ISES end-of-year records. In any given district, each student has only one end-of-year record. That record is the ISES YE record representing the school enrollment period during which the student completed the school term. Total fall enrollment is based on ISES Count Date (3rd Friday of September) records beginning in 2004-05 and is provided for information purposes only (no longer used in calculating retention rates beginning with 2004-05).


Frequently Asked Questions about Retention Rates

  1. Why are grade 12 students with disabilities who continue at grade 12 for multiple years not counted in the retention rate formula?

    Students with the most significant cognitive disabilities are coded in ISES as grade 12 based on age and are expected to remain at that grade 12 until they complete high school even if it takes multiple school years. These students are coded in ISES as "retained" when they continue at grade 12 for multiple years, but retention at grade 12 does not have the same meaning for this group as for other student groups so the former group is excluded from the retention rate formula. Note that students with the most significant cognitive disabilities are a small subset of all students with disabilities. The vast majority of students with disabilities are fully included in the retention rate formula.


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