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Is Retaining Students in the Early Grades Self-Defeating?

Is Retaining Students in the Early Grades Self-Defeating?

Even in the absence of test-based promotion policies, the extent to which America’s school systems have retained low-performing students in the same grade has varied considerably over time. Proponents of retention have long argued that low-performing students stand to benefit from an improved match of their ability to that of their peers and from the opportunity for additional instruction before confronting more challenging material. They also contend that the threat of being held back and the creation of grade cohorts that are more homogenous in ability could yield benefits even for higher-performing students. In the 1960s, however, concerns that retention hinders the social, emotional, and cognitive development of at-risk students led many educators to call for students to be advanced to the next grade with their peers regardless of their academic performance. Although systematic data are scarce, this push for so-called “social promotion” appears to have reduced the incidence of retention nationwide.

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