Stock Photo © Monkey Business Images Ltd

Grade Retention: Should my child repeat a grade?

Updated 31 December 2021
Published 15 April 2017

NASP urges educators to use methods other than grade retention and social promotion…. When retained and promoted peers are compared in the same grade, retained students experience a short-term boost that dissipates within 4 years…. Except in very rare circumstances when a student has missed a large number of school days, grade retention and social promotion are not recommended. Instead, students whose performance is substantially below their grade level peers need an intensive individualized intervention plan with frequent progress monitoring and involvement with specialists and related services providers….

In the Position Statement excerpted above, the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) takes a strong stance against the practice of repeating a grade or holding students back (i.e., grade retention), and in favor of intensive individualized intervention. To elaborate on this issue, they have published a White Paper, excerpted below. If your child’s academic performance is substantially below their grade level peers, I suggest you meet with a qualified professional to consider whether your child might have a learning disability or other difficulties interfering with their learning, such as inattention, anxiety, or depression.

Researchers have attempted to assess the effects of grade retention on achievement for more than three decades…. The unanimous conclusion from these reviews is that grade retention offers few if any benefits to the retained student and may increase the retained child’s risk for poor school outcomes, including dropping out of school prior to high school graduation.

If you are seriously considering grade retention after having considered the research and expert consensus against the practices of grade retention and social promotion, you should consider the NASP’s expert opinion: “When students continue to perform below grade level standards and other causes for failure are ruled out (e.g., handicapping condition, limited English proficiency), and the student is retained in grade, the retention intervention must offer more than a ‘repeat’ of the previous year’s instruction.…If it is necessary to retain a student in grade, an intensive individualized intervention plan and frequent progress monitoring should be employed to ensure the maximum benefit for the student” (2011). Additionally, you should also consider how grade retention might impact your child, socially and as a whole. A qualifed professional can administer Light’s Retention Scale, which can be a useful tool for helping you have a discussion of factors specifically relevant to your child.

The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) opposes the use of retention as an intervention strategy to mitigate instructional loss during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it urges caution regarding the assumption that special education services are an appropriate way to address COVID-19 instructional loss.…Retention is a costly intervention with little to no evidence of improving long-term academic outcomes. The majority of studies conducted over the past four decades on the effectiveness of grade retention fail to support its efficacy in remediating academic deficits (e.g., Andrew, 2014; Fruehwirth et al., 2016; Hwang & Cappella, 2019; Jimerson, 2001). In fact, repeating a grade prior to beginning high school increases the risk that a student will drop out even when other variables, including overall academic achievement and disciplinary records, are considered (Hughes et al., 2018; Jacob & Lefgren, 2009; Stearns et al., 2016). Moreover, retained students from minoritized backgrounds drop out at disproportionately higher rates compared with their White peers (Hughes et al., 2018).

The NASP has also considered the impacts of COVID-19, and the NASP is maintaining their guidance against the use of grade retention.