Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Does the Timing of Grade Retention Make a Difference? Examining the Effects of Early versus Later Retention

Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Does the Timing of Grade Retention Make a Difference? Examining the Effects of Early versus Later Retention

Article excerpt

Abstract. Research examining the effectiveness of grade retention has provided overwhelming and seemingly irrefutable evidence that grade retention is an ineffective and potentially harmful practice. However, proponents of grade retention often advocate that retention in the early elementary grades (e.g., kindergarten, first and second grade) is the justified exception. This longitudinal study examined the reading growth trajectories of students (n = 49) from first through eighth grade. Hierarchical linear modeling analytic procedures provided novel insights regarding the relative reading growth trajectories among retained students, comparing those students retained in kindergarten through second grade with those students retained in Grades 3-6. The results revealed that the growth trajectories of students retained early (Grades K-2) were comparable to those retained later (Grades 3-5). These findings failed to support the efficacy of retention at an earlier grade in elementary school.


Grade retention, defined as requiring a student to remain at his or her current grade level the following school year despite spending a full school year at that given grade (Jackson, 1975), remains a relatively frequently used and controversial intervention (Jimerson, Pletcher, Graydon, Schnurr, Nickerson, & Kindert, 2006). Approximately 2.4 million children, or 5-10% of the school-aged population, have been retained each year (Dawson, 1998), but meta-analytic research has consistently revealed small to moderate mean effect sizes that favored the academic and socioemotional development of promoted comparison groups over groups of retained children (Holmes, 1989; Holmes & Matthews, 1984; Jimerson, 2001).

Longitudinal research also has failed to demonstrate an overall positive effect for grade retention as an intervention. Short-term gains in mathematics skills have been noted, but higher absenteeism and lower social-emotional rankings among retained children as compared to a group of promoted children have also been found (Jimerson, Carlson, Rotert, Egeland, & Sroufe, 1997). Moreover, grade retention has been linked to increased risk for dropping out of school to the extent that early grade retention has been "one of the most powerful predictors of later school withdrawal" (Jimerson, Anderson, & Whipple, 2002, p. 452).

Generally speaking, research has not supported retention and suggested negative effects, so why are students retained? Grade retention seems to hold an intuitive appeal despite a lack of empirical support. It also seems intuitively advantageous to retain a child earlier (e.g., by second grade) rather than later (e.g., third grade or later). Students are purportedly retained in early elementary grades to prevent future failure, and are retained in high school to prevent graduation by students who lack the basic skills necessary for post-high school success (Martinez & Vandergrift, 1991). Thus, retention before second grade is viewed as an early intervention or a preventative measure. Graue and DiPerna (2000) found that delayed entry into kindergarten led to academic skills consistent with peers, and early-retained students were more advanced than students who were retained in a later grade. These data supported early retention as prevention hypothesis, but a review of the literature did not reveal any studies that examined timing of retention, rather than retention compared to delayed entry. Therefore, the current study was conducted to answer the following research question: Is retention in early grades (kindergarten through second grade) linked to better short- and long-term outcomes relative to retention in later grades (third through fifth)?



Participants were 49 students, from five districts in rural and suburban Minnesota, divided into two groups. The participating school districts did not have any recorded policy or standard procedure for student retentions or retention decisions. …

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