Grade retention: Will it help?

By Howard Margolis: For Complete Post, Click Here…

Retention rarely helps struggling learners, especially those with reading disabilities. I’ll say it again: It rarely helps.

It often backfires. Combinations of negative feelings abound: Humiliation, bewilderment, anger, despondency, resentment, despair, and so on. Magnify this by the widespread isolation and anxiety caused by COVID-19 and you have a formula for continued despair, resentment, and turmoil.

Around the turn of the century, Chicago enforced an aggressive policy of retaining students, a policy examined by Dr. Mary Abbott and her colleagues. Regrettably, the results were not surprising.

“The academic future of the students who were actually retained was poor. The academic performance of the Chicago third graders who were retained was similar to that of third graders who were not retained, retained sixth graders performed more poorly than their counterparts who were not retained, and retained eighth graders were far more likely to drop out and to do so at a younger age than students who were not retained. Furthermore, 78% of the students retained in eighth grade had dropped out by the time they turned 19…. These results mirror those of past retention studies (italics added) that have reported that retained students either show declines in achievement over several years after retention or have academic outcomes that are no better after repeating a grade than those of low-achieving promoted students. In addition, students who have been retained have higher dropout rates than their promoted low-achieving peers.”

Similarly, Dr. Amy Reschly noted that retention sharply increased the odds that children would drop out of school:

“Failure to achieve grade-level expectations in reading is the primary reason students in the early grades are retained … Research on grade retention clearly points to a connection between retention and dropout. … Grade retention was the most powerful predictor of later dropout, with retained students being 11 times more likely to drop out of school.”

Today, grade retention continues to backfire.

“Our results indicate that grade retention has a neutral effect on academic achievement in the short run. In the long run, grade retention, just like forced downgrading, has adverse effects on schooling outcomes and, more so, for less able pupils.”

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