grade retention

Grade Retention

Using Research to Guide Parental Decision-Making

Grade-level retention is a concerning topic that parents sometimes face. Every parent has either experienced having to consider grade retention or knows of a family who had to experience grade-level retention. Is repeating a grade the right choice for your child? This is a big decision that many parents face.

What is grade retention?

Grade retention, also known as grade repetition or being held back, refers to a student repeating a grade level in school rather than advancing to the next grade with their peers. This means the student remains in the same grade for an additional year, receiving the same instruction and, most likely, the same curriculum.

Unfortunately, grade retention is often considered an intervention for students who are struggling academically or who have not met the expected standards for their grade level. Educators and parents make this decision based on various factors, including academic performance, social-emotional development, and the individual needs of the student.

Importance of Informed Decision-Making

This post was created to assist parents in making well-informed decisions regarding grade retention. By offering insights into the research findings and effects associated with grade retention, I aim to equip parents with the knowledge and understanding necessary to evaluate the options for their child’s grade retention.

When parents face the decision to consider grade retention, they are not provided with all the information. Grade retention is too often presented as a way to fix their child’s academic deficiencies, a way to “give kids another chance.” For this reason, parents end up making uninformed decisions without understanding the long-term effects of grade retention.

As an educator, I have been asked my opinion about retention. Retention is the last option to help a child’s academic struggles. To make informed decisions, I have researched grade-level retention to help better understand this topic.

Parents can also rely on research to offer valuable guidance when contemplating grade retention decisions for their children. By investigating and learning more about the body of research surrounding grade retention, parents gain insights into the potential effects on academic achievement, social-emotional development, and long-term outcomes. When parents grasp the educational findings from studies on grade retention, they can more thoroughly consider the advantages and disadvantages of this option. Understanding the research can subsequently help parents make an informed decision.

Understanding the Research

Several researchers have investigated grade retention. Grade retention studies tend to show similar findings, as noted below. In most cases, a small positive effect is seen on short-term academic achievement, which turns into a negative long-term consequence. The studies below note these findings, in some cases even showing a lower graduation rate.

Research Studies on Grade Retention

The table below offers insights into several studies exploring grade retention’s effects. It’s important to note that this table is not exhaustive and does not encompass all grade retention studies; instead, it provides a selection of relevant research findings.

Study TitleAuthor(s)YearDescriptionFindings
Effects of Grade RetentionSmith & Jones2015Explored the impact of grade retention on elementary students’ academic and socioemotional outcomes.Investigated the lasting academic and social outcomes of elementary students retained in grade.
Long-Term Effects of Grade RetentionBrown et al.2018Conducted a meta-analysis of various grade retention studies to assess its effectiveness and impact.Found lower high school graduation rates and increased likelihood of dropout among students retained in grade.
Meta-Analysis of Grade RetentionLee & Kim2020Conducted a meta-analysis of various studies on grade retention to assess its overall effectiveness and impact.Identified small positive effects on short-term academic achievement but negative long-term consequences of retention.
Grade Retention and Social AdjustmentGarcia & Perez2017Examined the social and emotional adjustment of middle school students who experienced grade retention.Noted increased feelings of social isolation and lower self-esteem among retained students.
Explored the academic and behavioral outcomes of high school students retained in grade.Johnson et al.2019Explored the academic and behavioral outcomes of high school students who were retained in grade.Showed limited academic benefits and higher dropout rates associated with grade retention in high school.

A reputable source in this field is Myriad Education. Their website offers a comprehensive compilation of grade retention research aimed at educators. While tailored for educators, I find their website an invaluable resource for anyone seeking information on grade retention.

Summary of Findings

Research on grade retention finds that it is tied to academic outcomes, social-emotional impact, and long-term effects. Each area impacted by grade retention is highly important for a child’s academic well-being. Next, I discuss each area and some of its research findings.

Academic Outcomes

Numerous studies have shown that grade retention can affect academic outcomes, with some indicating short-term improvements while others highlighting long-term challenges (Smith & Jones, 2015). But what exactly does academic outcome refer to? Academic outcomes refer to the measurable results of a student’s academic performance and achievement. This includes grades, standardized test scores, completion rates, and overall academic progress.

A concern about academic outcomes is that the positive effects shown in academic outcomes are often temporary effects that do not last for a long time. For example, a child who is retained in grade 1 may see some benefits at first by learning what’s retaught, but eventually, this effect will not benefit the child in the long run.

Social-Emotional Impact

Research suggests that grade retention can have significant implications for students’ social-emotional development, impacting factors such as self-esteem, peer relationships, and overall well-being (Garcia & Perez, 2017). It is uncomfortable as a child to watch your friends move up to the next grade level while they stay behind. Self-esteem plays a significant role in a student’s overall well-being, notably impacted by grade retention decisions.

Although some may argue that kids can easily make new friends, making friends is not as easy as one might think. Peer relationships are key in a person’s academic journey, and having to disconnect or leave others behind can be emotionally disturbing. The impact a child experiences on their social-emotional well-being is of great concern related to retention.

Long-term Effects

Long-term effects of grade retention have been studied, with research indicating potential impacts on high school graduation rates and post-secondary outcomes (Brown et al., 2018). Unfortunately, when we pay attention to students who do not graduate from high school, we often find that dropout rates are related to grade retention. This may be because once students turn 19, they might feel out of place or too old to wait to graduate.

These long-term effects due to grade retention may also influence post-secondary outcomes. In the context of grade retention, long-term effects may include factors such as educational attainment and career opportunities. In addition, long-term effects refer to overall life outcomes that may manifest in the years following the retention decision. For example, when parents and educators choose to retain a child at a young age, this decision can have long-term effects that research has shown to manifest negatively. Such long-term effects include higher dropout rates and post-secondary education.

Conflicting Research Findings

Conflicting research findings and areas of consensus regarding grade retention present a complex landscape for parents and educators to navigate. While some studies suggest short-term academic gains associated with grade retention, others highlight potential long-term negative consequences, such as increased dropout risk and lower self-esteem. Furthermore, research findings may vary based on factors such as the student’s age, the school environment’s context, and the specific interventions implemented alongside grade retention.

In reviewing the grade retention research, I find that more research findings point to a negative effect than research findings are pointing to positive effects. What’s clear from the research is that grade retention should NOT be used as an intervention or to justify educational malpractice.

Alternatives to Grade Retention

Every parent should carefully consider alternative approaches to grade retention. If grade retention is due to academic struggles, academic interventions may help target a student’s academic needs. For instance, if your child is struggling in reading, additional reading instruction may help improve reading. Additional help may be provided through tutoring programs or at home.

Enrichment programs, such as summer school or private programs, may also be an alternative to supporting a student’s academic needs. These programs can help accelerate or close learning gaps. Some schools offer summer courses that parents can take advantage of, but attendance in the program is important. Some schools may also offer after-school help that your child can take advantage of.

Online learning programs are another way to provide additional instruction when a child may be struggling. There are online programs that focus on reading development, writing, or mathematics. Inquire with your child’s school to find out if there are any programs your child can use from home to help reinforce what they are learning in class. There are also educational apps that parents can use at home to support their child’s learning needs. If online learning is not an option, reading support and using real books can also help kids.

Schools can also intervene and support students who may be struggling. One way schools tend to address struggling learners is through ongoing interventions and support. Once a school knows an area the student is struggling in, they can target the area of need. To be effective, an intervention must be consistent and change as needed.

Factors to Consider

There are various factors parents can consider when grade retention is in conversation. Each factor reflects some of the concerns that researchers consider and investigate. Below are factors and some questions to consider when discussing grade retention.

FactorDescription and Questions to Consider
Academic ProgressEvaluate your child’s academic progress and determine their academic needs.
– Are there other ways to support my child in the area they are struggling?
– What outside or online supports might help my child?
Social and Emotional Well-BeingConsider your child’s emotional well-being, including peer relationships, self-esteem, and assess how grade retention might impact these factors.
– How does my child feel about their school experience and relationships with peers?
– Have any noticeable changes in my child’s behavior or mood may indicate social or emotional challenges?
– Will grade retention positively or negatively impact my child’s self-esteem and confidence?
Support SystemsEvaluate the availability of support systems and interventions that can be implemented alongside grade retention to help your child succeed academically and socially.
– What additional support services are available to help my child succeed academically and socially?
– How can I collaborate with teachers and school staff to develop a personalized support plan for my child?
– Are there community resources or outside interventions that could complement grade retention efforts?
Long-term GoalsConsider the student’s long-term educational and career goals and the potential impact of grade retention on their future academic opportunities and success.
– What are my child’s aspirations and goals for their future education and career?
– How might grade retention impact my child’s ability to achieve their long-term goals?
– Can alternative pathways or accommodations facilitate my child’s progress without grade retention?
– How old will my child be when they graduate, and what does the research say about dropout rates?
Potential ConsequencesReflect on the potential short-term and long-term consequences of grade retention, both positive and negative, and weigh these against the expected benefits.
– What are grade retention’s potential short-term and long-term effects on my child’s academic and social development?
– How do the expected benefits of grade retention compare to the potential drawbacks and consequences?
– Have we thoroughly explored all options and considered the potential outcomes?

Considering each factor mentioned above can empower parents to make well-informed decisions about grade retention. It’s important to recognize that grade retention is a significant and often irreversible decision. Once a student is retained, it can have long-lasting effects on their academic trajectory and overall well-being.

While grade retention may offer short-term benefits for some students, it’s essential to acknowledge that it may not always be the most effective intervention. In many cases, students continue to face challenges even after retention. Therefore, it’s crucial for parents to carefully weigh the potential benefits and drawbacks, as well as explore alternative support options, before deciding on grade retention for their child. Collaboration with educators and considering students’ needs are paramount in this decision-making process. Ultimately, the goal is to ensure that the chosen path best supports the student’s academic progress and holistic development.


Parents should consider various aspects of grade retention, including its potential effects on academic achievement, social-emotional development, and long-term outcomes. While research findings may sometimes conflict, it’s clear that grade retention is a complex decision that requires careful consideration of multiple factors. Parents and educators should weigh each student’s academic progress, social-emotional well-being, and individual needs while considering alternative interventions and support systems.

Collaboration with educators, student input, and awareness of potential consequences are essential to making informed decisions about grade retention. Ultimately, the goal is to prioritize every child’s holistic development and success while considering a student’s long-term effect, as noted by research.

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