Retention Intervention or

Is this educational practice failing our
Kelly Caci-Newburgh Enlarged City School District
John Garruto-Oswego City School District; State University of New York College at Oswego
The frequency of a practice should
not be confused with its
Robert Brooks
Have you heard these statements?
Johnny needs another
year in kindergarten to
learn the basics
He has a late birthday
She is small for her age, so
she will fit in after she is left
Boys are less mature
She hasn’t really
connected with the other
kids so she won’t miss her
Another year will help him
learn the language
Making the Grade: Beyond Retention and Social Promotion
Pasco County Schools
If a student is below
grade level and
isn’t retained, he/she is
at risk for dropping out.
Retention actually INCREASES the
achievement gap and risk for dropping out.
If a student is immature
retention will help
him/her adjust and gain
Research does not support the idea that retention improves
maturity. In fact, retention has had the opposite effect, lowering
the student’s self-esteem and sense of belonging.
Retention is the best
alternative for
struggling students
Various other strategies have been proven successful with struggling students.
“Simply having a student repeat a grade is unlikely to address the multiple
factors influencing the student’s poor achievement or adjustment that resulted
in the decision to retain the student.” (Jimerson, 2001)
Young students
benefit from
There is currently no systematic means to predict accurately which
children will benefit from being retained. Overall, the literature
identifies grade retention as an ineffective strategy for meeting the
educational needs of low achieving students.
Fact or myth?
The latest study on the stress with grade retention indicated that
grade retention was third most stressful with death of a parent and
going blind as the other two.
Myth: This study was replicated and it was actually the most stressful
associated event in a child’s life.
Fact or myth
Grade retention will give students who are identified the gift of time.
Myth: Students may legally attend school until they are age 21 when
they have a disability. If you put a year on the front end, you lose a
year on the back end.
What do we mean
when we say
• Keeping a child back in a grade in
elementary school to repeat the
• Delaying the start of an incoming
• The repetition of a grade in
middle/high school due to academic
• The use of “bridge” or “transition”
Who gets retained?
Other common characteristics include:
 Boys are retained more than girls
 Poor academic achievement and low
standardized test scores
 Poor, minority, inner city students are
retained more than white students
 A history of numerous school changes and
 Aggressive, acting out students
 Students with large family size
 Students displaying ADHD and or ODD
 Students with low parental education and
low family involvement
 Students who are learning disabled
 SES is a powerful indicator – more so than
Grade Retention: Achievement and Mental Health Outcomes
Anderson, Whipple, & Jimerson 2002
Academic Effects of Retention
 Gains in student achievement may be
noted the first year after retention.
 However, the gains tend to be small and
diminish within 3 years
 Students who are struggling
academically but moved to the next
grade demonstrate higher achievement
than retained students
 Many students are diagnosed with a
learning disability shortly after they are
 Kindergarten retention and transition
rooms are ineffective. Transition children
perform no better academically than
transition-eligible children who moved to
first grade.
 Transition rooms are not effective whether
the child is retained for academic or
maturity issues
Mental Health
Effects of Retention
 Increased stress
Lower self esteem and rate of
school attendance are predictive
of dropping out.
 Lower self esteem
 Lower rates of
school attendance
 Increased acting
out behaviors
Students who drop out experience
higher rates of mental health
problems, chemical abuse, and
criminal activities.
Grade Retention: Achievement and Mental Health Outcomes
Anderson, Whipple, & Jimerson 2002
From the students’ perspective
Surveys of stressful events in the
80s found that students feared
retention most after the loss of a
parent and going blind
Anderson, Jimerson, & Whipple, 2002
When this study was replicated in
2001, 6th grade students rated
retention as the single most
stressful life event, higher than
both the loss of a parent and
going blind
Why is retention a failed “intervention”?
 Retention is not preventive and attempts to
remedy problems that have already
 Members of decision-making teams may
use data selectively and recommendations
to retain or promote may be subject to bias.
 Most often nothing different happens for the
retained child other than a repeat of the
school year
 Being retained one year almost doubled a
student’s likelihood of dropping out, while
failing twice almost guarantees it.
 In the absence of specialized interventions
during the retention year, students are
exposed to a class/program that were not
beneficial the first time
 Retention is the second greatest predictor of
school drop-out
 There is often a general failure to address
the risk factors associated with retention
 Being overage for a grade may result in
stigma in later school years and exacerbate
behavioral and social-emotional adjustment
Other relevant data
 the threat of non-promotion is not a
motivating force for students
 grade retention does not generally
improve achievement or adjustment for
developmentally immature students
 economically, grade retention is a poor
use of the education dollar, because it
increases the cost of education without
any benefits for the vast majority of
retained children
 classified students who may need up to
their 21st year to graduate lose a year at
the end of their educational career and
may not have enough time to earn the
required credits to graduate.
Educators’ views on retention
 A study by Range, Holt, Pijanowski, & Young (2012) discovered the following information:
 Educators and principals differed on their views of grade retention
 For those who supported grade retention, the two most common reasons were “Prevents Future
Failure” and “Maintains Standards.”
Research studies regarding retention:
 First-in the spirit of transparency-research that did not identify retention as
 A few studies did not underscore grade retention as a bad practice
(Hong & Yu, 2008; Gleason, Kwok, & Hughes, 2007). However, even those
studies failed to look at grade retention over time. Therefore, even those
select few studies that did not identify the practice as harmful were not
able to substantiate that any benefit to grade retention is often lost in a
few years (NASP, 2003).
 An additional recent study noted in Range et al. (2012) cited a study by
McCombs indicating self-esteem was not impacted after 4 years.
Why turn to research?
 Analyzing the success of practices is our
professional duty.
 Despite our feelings toward any issue
(and grade retention is an emotionally
charged issue), we must turn to the body
of research to guide how we work with
children. We would not expect our
doctors, cancer research specialists, etc.
to rely on their feelings-we depend on
them to rely on research.
 A caveat: Almost anyone will find
exceptions to the rule. This includes
testimonials of “it worked for these people
I know.” Our practice toward grade
retention must reflect research done on
many children, while still keeping in
account individual differences.
Research by Anderson, Jimerson, &
Whipple (2002).
 Previous research has indicated that 6th
grade students found retention to be the
third most stressful event after losing a
parent and going blind (NASP, 2003).
 Anderson et al.’s (2002) study found that
1st grade students found retention to be
the 10th most stressful life event. Third
graders found it to be the 5th most stressful
and sixth graders found it to be the most
stressful life event…even worse than
losing a parent or going blind.
 Clearly past research has indicated that
we are putting quite a toll on our youth in
terms of stress when we opt to look at
grade retention.
Research by Jimerson (2001).
 As can be seen from the graph
- the majority of effect sizes
were zero on down; only a few
were positive. Eighty percent
of the studies showed a
negative effect size.
Research by Jimerson (2001).
 The last slide shows that in 80% of the studies that were
selected, the effect size was either nil or negative.
 When one combines the research of the two studies, the
research indicates that we are putting a heavy amount
of stress on children for a practice that has an 80%
nonsuccess rate. That’s like going to a doctor,
undergoing a stressful medical procedure, that has an
80% failure rate.
Research by Ferguson, Jimerson, & Dalton
This was a longitudinal study following 106 students from K-11th grade. The research
 Older retained students who showed early personal
deficits were especially harmed by retention.
 Students with low SES and low parental education and
low parental value of education were also especially
harmed by retention.
 Something different must be done to head off
educational problems.
Summary of research
 When combining the results of the past problem solving research-we have
 Grade retention has been overwhelmingly shown to be an ineffective
 For those studies where retention was not shown to be especially harmfulthose studies did not identify results were sustained over time.
 The students we are often likely to retain are the most likely to be harmed by
 When we retain students-we put one of the greatest life stressors on them with
negligible to negative returns on this “investment.”
Local Statistics
47 students retained between 1999-2004
 83% of students retained are students of
 55.3% of retained students are African
 27.7% of retained students are Hispanic
 50% of retained students were later referred
to CSE and classified – AFTER THEIR
School Demographics
 65% are students of color
 African American – 22%
 Hispanic or Latino – 42%
 White – 27%
 Asian/Hawaiian/Pacific Islander – 5%
 Native American – 1%
When other factors
are controlled,
retention N
becomes 28.
Controlling for those who transferred out of district,
are not yet at the point of graduation
53% of retained students did not
Of those not graduating:
African American - 57%
Hispanic - 28%
White -17%
Local Demographics:
African American – 22%
Hispanic or Latino – 42%
White – 27%
National Academy of Education (1991):
"Research conducted in recent years on
grade retention has led educators to make the
connection that holding young people back in
schools holds them back in life" (p. 53).
Foster (1993): “Recent literature in the field, however,
presents conclusive evidence against retaining children...
A large number of other meta-analyses and synthesis of
retention studies confirm the notion that children
recommended for retention, but promoted anyway, do at
least as well or better than similar children who were
retained in order to improve their academic skills. ... If the
goal of retention is to enhance academic achievement,
implementation fails to realize this goal" (p. 39).
House (1989): Students are retained in rather arbitrary and
inconsistent ways, and those flunked are more likely to be poor,
males and minorities, although holding students back is
practiced to some degree in rich and poor schools alike. The
effects of flunking are immediately traumatic to the children and
the retained children do worse academically in the future, with
many of them dropping out of school altogether. Incredibly,
being retained has as much to do with children dropping out as
does their academic achievement. It would be difficult to find
another educational practice on which the evidence is so
unequivocally negative.
How many of you use
this to help you make
retention decisions?
Test review for Light’s Retention Scale
 Spencenier, L.J. (2010) says:
 “seems to be a dusted-off relic, dug up from a different era of time.
Much of the research cited is over 10 years old and outdated.”
 “Much of the data that support the categories used to identify
students are outdated. This scale has limited use and value.”
Test review for Light’s Retention Scale
 Suen (2010) says:
 “There is a large host of reliability and validity questions regarding the precision of
the scores, the margin of scoring error, the appropriateness of the weights, the
predictive accuracy of the total scores regarding retention effectiveness, and
many other questions of score-related reliability and validity that remain
 “There is little evidence that the scoring scheme leads to scores that are
meaningful, reliable, or useful. Additionally, the guidelines for score interpretation
seem to be arbitrary and without any theoretical or empirical support”
 Suen did comment that he thought the domains were useful but more from a
guidance perspective and not a quantitative perspective.
Retention Policies
 What does your school district’s retention policy
look like?
It is rare in educational research to
find so many studies with a similar
conclusion: retention is not a
successful intervention to assist
students either academically or
John Hattie, 2004
The retention inoculation toolkit
When you hear: “How can we send my child to the
next grade when he/she hasn’t mastered everything
they need to in this grade?” You will say:
 “It’s understandable that this would be a concern. However, even
if your child repeated this grade-does this make the problem go
away? If it’s a disability-does the disability go away? If it’s a
difficulty-does the difficulty go away? Those things are still present
and while maybe your child will get better at the material for that
grade level-the next grade level is all new and their disability,
difficulty, emotional difficulties still interfere. Only this time-they see
people younger than they are surpassing them.”
 “Is it better to do the same thing again when it hasn’t worked this
year? Or should we look to the root of the problem and help the
child make real growth?”
When you hear: “But the state test is next year,
and there is no way they’ll pass it”, you’ll
 So if grade retention has been shown to be harmful to a child (as
you will have provided the research for this), is it okay to harm a
child so they will maybe get a better score on the state test?
When you hear: “Let’s give him the gift of
time”, you’ll say:
 Children can attend school until they are 21; retention does not
add a year onto this law. Are you prepared to take a year away
from them while they’re trying to get credits to graduate?
When you hear: “Research isn’t everything”,
you’ll say:
 “Would you be okay if your doctor said this to you?”
When you hear: “Let’s give them one more
year before we test them”, you will say:
 If there’s suspicion of a disability, we are legally required to
evaluate right away.
 Students with disabilities are not good candidates for retention.
Wouldn’t we want to make sure the student is not disabled before
we engage in this practice?
…it is critical to emphasize to educators and
parents that a century of research has failed
to demonstrate the benefits of grade retention
over promotion to the next grade for any
group of students.
Grade Retention: Achievement and Mental Health Outcomes
Anderson, Whipple, & Jimerson 2002
Range et al. (2012) said this about teacher perspectives:
“Educators in this school district clearly show what others have
found: that current research does little to sway the views of
practitioners. Most importantly, this study differentiated between
the views of teachers and principals, with teachers being much
more supportive of the use of grade retention. Universities must
do a better job at educating preservice teachers concerning
the negative consequences associated with retention and
training them on research-based interventions that support
struggling students” (p. 12).
Anderson, G. E., Jimerson, S. R., & Whipple, A.D. (2002). Student's ratings of stressful experiences at
home and school: Loss of a parent and grade retention as superlative stressors. Manuscript prepared
for publication, available from authors at the University of California, Santa Barbara
Anderson, G. E., Whipple, A.D., & Jimerson, S. R. (2002). Grade Retention: Achievement and Mental
Health Outcomes. Retrieved October 15, 2014,
Jimerson, S., Ferguson, P., Whipple, A., Anderson, G., & Dalton, M. (2002). Exploring the association
between grade retention and dropout: A longitudinal study examining socio-emotional, behavioral,
and achievement characteristics of retained students. California School Psychologist, 7, 51-62.
Retrieved September 28, 2009, from PsycINFO database.
Gleason, K., Kwok, O., & Hughes, J. (2007, March). The Short-Term Effect of Grade Retention on Peer
Relations and Academic Performance of At-Risk First Graders. Elementary School Journal, 107(4), 327340. Retrieved September 28, 2009, from Education Research Complete database
 Range, B.G., Holt, C., Pijanowski, J., & Young, S. (2012). The Perceptions of Primary Grade
Teachers and Elementary Principals about the Effectiveness of Grade Level Retention.
The Professional Educator, 36(1), 1-17.
 Making the Grade: Beyond Retention and Social Promotion. Pasco County Schools
 Hong, G., & Yu, B. (2008, March). Effects of Kindergarten Retention on Children's SocialEmotional Development: An Application of Propensity Score Method to Multivariate,
Multilevel Data. Developmental Psychology, 44(2), 407-421. Retrieved September 28, 2009,
Some other resources
Grade Retention & Special Education:--A Call for a Transparent System of Accountability
Retention & FAPE: What Does the Research Say?
Doing Your Homework: Retention! Special Ed Teacher Needs Ammunition
Retention, Delays and Social Promotion:
Grade Retention and dyslexia:
Is Grade Retention Educational Malpractice
Visible learning-- retention is ranked as one of the worst things you could do to a student:
The major issues in the Retention debate:
Some other resources
Questioning retention
Does Retention (Repeating a grade) Help Struggling Learners:
Does the Timing of Grade Retention Make a Difference? Examining the Effects of Early Versus Later Retention:
Effects of Kindergarten Retention Policy on Children's Cognitive Growth in Reading and Mathematics:
Dissertation--there is a good section on alternatives to retention:
Alternatives to Retention in Grade:
Alternatives to Grade Retention:
Beyond Grade Retention and Social Promotion: Promoting The Social And Academic Competence Of Students:

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