While passing the year is important, it is not everything. After participating in the first large-scale international studies, namely, the TIMS 1995 (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) and the PISA 2000 (Programme for International Student Assessment), with worrying results, Portugal obtained its first internationally comparable instruments for measuring school performance. Since then, there has been a material improvement in the academic success of the Portuguese students, which is reflected in higher school transition rates. From 2000 to 2018 the percentage of students who did not pass the year decreased from 40% to 13.6%.
Despite this progress, many Portuguese students are still retained for one or more years. Although the retention rate has been decreasing, in 2015, more than 30% of the students were still retained, at least once.
According to official data of the Directorate-General for Education and Science Statistics (shown in the chart below), retention rates have been falling in all years of schooling (from the 1st to the 12th grade). This trend started in 2014/2015 and, according to more recent indicators, has continued until 2017/2018.
In 2018, 10% of the students in compulsory education (up to the 12th grade or until the age of 18) were retained or dropped out of school. In 2018, only 2.6% of basic education students failed to pass the year, whereas in secondary school the percentage rose to 13.6%. However, retention rates in secondary school have been systematically dropping to almost half (from 20.5% in 2011 to 13.6% in 2018).
The chart illustrates a high fluctuation in student's retention rates since 1994. Between 2007 and 2008, there is a sharp decline in the 3rd cycle of basic education, when compulsory education was only nine years, and students were encouraged to take Education and Training Courses (CEF). The CEF provided a flexible opportunity for those who wanted to complete the 9th grade, requiring only a certificate of attendance. When vocational courses were introduced in public schools, there was also a substantial decline in secondary education retention rates, with a higher expression between 2005 and 2008. Since then, and after a period of significant fluctuations in all educational stages, retention rates have been continuously dropping, both in basic and secondary education.
Retention rates have been steadily improving since 2012 in secondary education, since 2013 in the 2nd and 3rd cycles of basic education, and since 2014, in the 1st cycle of basic education (currently with residual values). The main goal of schools, and also the subject of several educational policies, is that students acquire basic skills and sufficiently consolidated knowledge of all subject matters that allows them to move to the next stage successfully. The chart illustrates the progress made in school retention and dropout rates, with a higher consistency over the past four years.