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8 Reasons Why Retention's Risky Business


Find out why holding students back a grade may not be a good idea.

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1. Retention's A Cost Everyone Pays

Retaining, or reeducating students, comes at a high price. 6 to 9% of students are retained each year. The retention rate in urban schools is about 50%. From 1996 to 1997 at least 32 million children (7%) were retained at a cost of almost 19 billion dollars.

2. Academic Benefits are Short-Lived

Retention does not improve academic achievement in the long-run. Research shows that low-performing children who are promoted achieve at the same level or higher than students who are retained and spent 2 years in a grade.

3. Two Years of Kindergarten May Not Be Beneficial

Many kindergarten children are retained for low achievement or immaturity. Children in 2 year kindergarten programs, or children held back in kindergarten, have no lasting academic advantages over children who are promoted or spend 1 year in kindergarten. Research shows that children who spend a second year in kindergarten are just as likely as their promoted, at-risk peers to be at the bottom of their 3rd grade class.

4. First-Grade Retention is Not First Rate

Children held back in 1st grade showed improved test scores during the year they were retained. However, their achievement did not improve in the later grades. Instead, retention is especially difficult for young children in the 1st grade. Needing to make new friends and transition to a new environment can be damaging to development.

5. Retention May Damage A Child's Self-Esteem

Retention becomes an emotionally damaging event that forever stays with the child. Children feel worse about their abilities to succeed when they repeat a grade. These children have lower scores on scales of personal and psychological adjustment. They are also more likely to have discipline issues.

6. Children Who Are Retained Have Difficulty Adjusting to School

Clinical interviews reveal that children feel anger and sadness about the retention. In addition to their own distress, they also feel anxiety about how their family, friends, and neighbors will react. Retained students report being teased. They also have difficulty adjusting to school.

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7. Retention Increases the Risk that Students Will Drop Out of School

Retaining students increases the risk that they will drop out of school. Children who are retained are 5 times more likely to drop out of school than children who are never retained. Children retained for 2 or more years have almost a 100% probability of dropping out of school compared to similar students who are promoted.

8. Adolescents Who Repeat a Grade Are Not as Healthy as Peers

Failing in school is a greater health-risk than other factors, such as poverty or family structure. School failure has been linked to health-risk behaviors, such as using cigarettes, alcohol, and weapons. Students who fail school are more likely to be sexually active and violent.