Grade Retention and School Dropout: Investigating the Association
One of the most consistent findings in the literature on early school leaving is that dropouts are much more likely to be overage for grade by the time they drop out. The strength of the association between grade retention and school dropout, widely cited in the literature, is impressive. Fully 77 percent of youths in the Fall River cohort who repeated at least one grade dropped out of school, compared to only 25 percent who had never failed a grade.
High dropout rates among retained youths are often used as evidence that grade retention is harmful. The problem with such comparisons is that it is unclear to what extent higher dropout rates among retained youths reflect the fact that school systems retain students because they are doing poorly in school and, thus, are already likely to drop out. In this chapter, I examine how much of the higher dropout rates among retained youths can be attributed to an independent impact of grade retention, and how much may be due to the simple fact that those students who are most likely to drop out due to poor educational performance may also be those most likely to experience a grade retention. I also examine the effect of grade retention by the number of times a student was retained, and by whether the retention was prior to or after the fourth grade.
Students who experience a retention may face an increased risk of school leaving because they do more poorly in school or have lower selfesteem as a result of that retention. Students who are retained in grade may also be at a higher risk of dropping out because a grade retention makes them overage for grade. Youths who are older than their classmates may feel different than their peers, particularly during adoles