Kristi Kafka

Nationally Certified School Psychologist



Much research is available related to retention and the major body of evidence indicates it does not work Yet, educators continue to retain students; most likely, for lack of alternatives.  Understandably, teachers feel if students do not acquire grade-level expectations they should not be promoted.  Promoting students who have not mastered grade-level skills is referred to as "social promotion" and research also does not support this approach.

Did you know studies have found...

Students who were retained are much more likely to drop out of school and less likely to earn a diploma by age 20

For most students, grade retention has a negative effect on all areas of achievement (reading, math, and language)

Research examining student perceptions of stressful life events rated retention as one of the most stressful (similar to losing a parent and going blind)

Retention is predictive of emotional distress, low self-esteem, poor peer relations, smoking, alcohol use, drug abuse, and driving or engaging in sexual activity while under the influence

As adults, individuals who repeated a grade are more likely to be unemployed, living on public assistance, or in prison than students who did not repeat a grade

So, what should be done?  If retaining is riddled with negative outcomes and social promotion is also ineffective, then what is left?  DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT.  (Vague statements like "do something different" are frustrating if not followed by examples.  The first document below offers some ideas.  Below are a few others.)

Gather a team to problem solve solutions.  Review work samples, state/district assessments, attendance, behavior...

If attendance is the major contributing factor, do not wait until the end of the year to fix that problem.  Call a team meeting and brainstorm ways (with the family) to improve attendance.  If that approach fails, follow district truancy reporting policies and enlist the help of law enforcement or the State's Attorney.

If behavior is the major concern, again, do not wait until the end of the year to address those concerns.  Gather a team, enlist resources like school and agency counselors, implement individual and/or group counseling, develop behavior improvement plans, assign a mentor, determine whether an evaluation is necessary, provide direct instruction related to skill deficits...

Use district-wide testing or other assessments to determine where skills breakdown.

Implement research-based interventions able to provide accelerated instruction or catch-up growth

Accept that this child's schedule will not be like a typical X grader and be willing to assign staff to implement individualized instruction - most likely other students could benefit from suggested instruction/interventions


Alternatives to Grade Retention -

National Association of School Psychologists Position Statement -