Repeating a grade: The pros and cons
Grade retention or social promotion -- which is best? Read what the experts have to say.
By Colleen Stump, Ph.D.
Has anyone at school talked to you about retaining your child in the same grade? Have you been thinking about whether your child should be promoted on to the next grade level?
Reasons for retention
Grade retention is a very difficult and emotionally charged decision. It may be considered when a child:
- Has significant struggles making progress in reading, writing or math
- Fails to reach performance levels expected for promotion to the next grade
- Appears to be "immature" and "young" for her age
In many schools today, tests are being used to determine whether a child will go on to the next grade or repeat the same grade. With the current push for high educational standards, more and more kids are facing the possibility of retention because they're not achieving test scores required for promotion. Retention is viewed as a way to ensure greater accountability — to guarantee the school is doing its job. In some cases, it's the new "get tough" policy to stop or reduce "social promotion" — automatically passing a child on to the next grade at the end of each school year.
Outcomes of retention
The idea of giving a child another year to "catch-up" and develop needed skills sounds like a positive alternative. However, research shows that outcomes for kids who are retained generally are not positive. In its 2003 "Position Statement on Student Grade Retention," the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) reports:
- Academic achievement of kids who are retained is poorer than that of peers who are promoted.
- Achievement gains associated with retention fade within two to three years after the grade repeated.
- Kids who are identified as most behind are the ones "most likely harmed by retention."
- Retention often is associated with increased behavior problems.
- Grade retention has a negative impact on all areas of a child's achievement (reading, math, and language) and socio-emotional adjustment (peer relationships, self-esteem, problem behaviors and attendance).
- Students who are retained are more likely to drop out of school compared to students who were never retained. In fact, grade retention is one of the most powerful predictors of high school dropout.
- Retained students are more likely to have poorer educational and employment outcomes during late adolescence and early adulthood.
- Retention is more likely to have benign or positive impact when students are not simply held back, but receive specific remediation to address skill and/or behavioral problems and promote achievement and social skills.
Kids with learning disabilities
Many kids with learning disabilities (LD) really struggle when taking district-adopted and state-adopted achievement tests. These tests require students to:
- Concentrate for long periods of time
- Work independently
- Persevere when faced with material they struggle to read and understand
- Record their answers using "bubble sheets"
- Work within specific time limits
Test results may not show what your child actually knows and can do. Instead, they may tell you how well she does on this type of test. When test scores are used as the only basis for whether a child will be promoted to the next grade, kids with LD can be at a great disadvantage.