Requiring a child to repeat a grade continues to be one of the major ways that public schools deal with struggling readers. This practice continues, in part, due to the way that “standards-based education” and “high-stakes” end-of-grade testing is implemented. However, most research does not support the effectiveness of grade retention for struggling readers and/or writers.
Both research and common sense suggest that simply having a child repeat a grade will rarely address the problems that the child is experiencing in the first place.
In fact, research shows retained students often suffer long-term harm, both academically and emotionally (source). Although some research suggests retained students show short-term gains in achievement, this is usually followed by a fade in progress, as well as negative attitudes toward school (source). For example, research has shown that, on average, retained students’ reading achievement is worse than fellow low-performing peers who are promoted. These deficiencies persist to the 11th and 12th grades and probably beyond. Further, research suggests that retained students are more likely to drop out of high school.
Grade retention has also been related to an erosion in students’ self-esteem and mental and emotional health.
While it can be frustrating to see your child struggling in school, and while retention may seem like the easy answer, we urge parents to think carefully before agreeing to it. There is a huge literature on this subject and wide agreement that grade retention alone will not improve a child’s reading skills. Grade retention might be especially problematic for children who struggle only with reading and writing but not in other areas, like math and science. For a child with such uneven achievement patterns a better approach might be to allow the child to advance to the next grade and continue to advance in areas of strength while providing a therapeutic program for reading spelling and writing skills.
Here are links to a few recent articles on this topic:
1) The Perceptions of Primary Grade Teachers and Elementary Principals about the Effectiveness of Grade-Level Retention
2) Beyond Grade Retention and Social Promotion
3) Does Grade Retention Make A Difference
If your child struggles with reading, writing or spelling, the most important first step is a professional evaluation. No matter where you live, your child can be tested and treated individually, face-to-face, online, by the clinical educators at Lexercise. Learn more here, or contact me directly at AskSandie@Lexercise.com or 1-919-747-4557.
Sandie is a speech-language pathologist with more than 30 years of experience in the private practice sector. She is Visiting Assistant Professor of Communication Sciences & Disorders at University of North Carolina Greensboro, and founder/owner of the Language & Learning Clinic, PLLC, a private practice in Elkin, NC, and Greensboro, NC, specializing in communication disorders, including disorders of reading and written language.