Pros and Cons of Grade Retention
The Pros and Cons of Grade Retention
With some studies suggesting that ten to twenty percent of all students have been retained at least once in their lifetime, grade retention is always a controversial topic. Some teachers openly advocate retention while other teachers are adamantly opposed. Both sides have studies that support their position. On paper, the idea of giving a child another year to develop skills sounds positive and worthwhile. However, ongoing research indicates that grade retention isn’t quite that simple. This article exposes both the positive and negative potential of student retention by examining the pros and cons of this important, controversial topic.
The Pros of Grade Retention
- While grade retention is often associated with increased behavior problems, no study has clearly and definitively proven that retention caused these behavior problems. In fact, additional studies have indicated that poor students or struggling students have increased behavior problems regardless of whether they have or have not been retained.
- Grade retention may certainly have a negative impact on peer relationships, but it may also eliminate any teasing or mistreatment associated with poor academic performance.
- Grade retention may result in increased self-esteem due to greater academic performance.
- While retained students are far more likely to drop out of high school, no study has been able to clearly isolate grade retention as the cause. Poor academic performance, regardless of retention or not, may be the true or largest cause of drop out.
- Retained students are more likely to struggle with employment. No conclusive studies have ever isolated grade retention as the cause for employment difficulties. Studies have clearly shown that students who struggle in school often struggle in their jobs later on in life. Grade retention may have nothing to do with this.
- Studies clearly show that alternate programs often benefit children more. Summer school, tutoring, and many other programs often provide better support and greater academic success for children who may be retained.
The Cons of Grade Retention
What do the studies show?
- Grade retention is often associated with increased behavior problems.
- Grade retention may have a negative impact on peer relationships.
- Grade retention may have a negative impact on self-esteem.
- Retained students are more likely to drop out of school, typically high school. Students who drop out are five times more likely to have been retained. (National Center for Education Statistics, 2006)
- Retained students are more likely to have worse education and employment histories.
- Studies indicate that grade retention can result in immediate academic gains, but these academic gains often disappear after only a few years.
- Retention does not always address the reason for academic difficulty. In at least one significant study, retained students showed a higher rate of special education placement, indicating that learning disabled students were being held back in place of meeting their needs.
- While it may be true that studies show that alternate programs often benefit children more, many districts fail to offer such programs. Consequently, retention may be the best or the only option for teachers. Even with such programs, some students may benefit more by repeating an entire year rather than receiving isolated instruction or tutoring.
Grade Retention Conclusion
The problem with these retention studies is that the vast majority have been biased, either in favor of studying only retained students or in studying only students retained in elementary grades. Studies have been conducted in order to determine the effect of grade retention, but few studies have followed students that could have been retained but were not. However, most of the studies that did follow both groups tended to show greater academic progress and higher self-esteem among the students who were not retained, but these studies were often small and involved few students. Numerous negative statistics regarding retention hold true in virtually every study, but no scientific and unbiased study has conclusively eliminated other possible causes. Does grade retention cause a higher rate of drop out, or is it poor academics? Does grade retention hinder future employment, or is it a result of limited education? Nobody truly knows the answer to these questions. One thing does hold true. Placing every student into one category is a mistake. Each student retention must be looked at as an individual decision, one that is based on the likelihood of success rather than a statistic-driven decision that can be made based on a rubric, static policy, or a study. What’s right for one student may not be right for another. The potential for academic gain, family life, self-esteem, peer groups, teacher quality, and many other factors must be considered each time a teacher looks at retaining a student. In the end, there is no conclusive evidence to suggest that either side of the issue is right. In fact, there is a good argument for both sides of this issue, and each student retention must be considered based on its own individual, unique circumstances.
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