Parents often call my office concerned in the spring because the school has recommended grade retention. Most of these parents are concerned because they believe their child has ADHD or learning differences. However, the school has not (or will not) evaluate their child.
These parents want to understand their child’s needs better. They also want to know what support their child needs to progress at school.
Grade retention, or having a child repeat a grade, typically occurs when students are not meeting social-emotional or grade-level expectations. At first glance, it can seem logical. If students are not progressing, giving them another year should give them the time needed to “catch up.”
However, abundant research over the last few decades indicates that grade retention does not benefit students. Much of the research shows adverse effects on students’ success at school long term.
If the research is clear that grade retention is not beneficial, why are schools still recommending it? The truth is there are several myths related to grade retention.
5 Myths and Facts about Grade Retention
If students are held back a grade, they will “catch up” with their peers.
Some studies have shown small academic gains in the FIRST year after a child repeats a grade. But, this improvement is temporary. Those benefits do not continue 2-3 years past the year of grade retention.
For children with ADHD, we know that they will likely be 30% behind their peers in their executive functioning, ability to regulate emotions, and social skills. So, if you retain a 7-year-old, they might fit in more the year they are retained. But that 30% rule still applies as they age, and the gap will still exist. These children need proper accommodations and interventions for ADHD. Another year will not be the answer to helping them “catch up.”
If a student is held back a grade, they will have another year to learn and will make progress in reading, writing, and math.
Students who experience grade retention do not improve in their learning long-term. Studies have shown that long-term, they perform more poorly in reading, writing, and math compared to other students who were also struggling academically and did not get retained. If a student didn’t learn the concepts the first time they were taught, then it is doubtful that simply repeating the same information in the same way, will help them learn it now.
For students who are socially and emotionally immature, another year will give them time to make social gains and boost their confidence.
The research does not show that grade retention will boost a child’s confidence or help them make social and emotional gains. In fact, the opposite is true. Research shows that children are more at risk for emotional distress following retention. They have more challenging peer relationships and lower self-esteem.
Students who are held back a grade will be more successful as they progress to high school.
Research has shown that children who experience grade retention in elementary school are 5-10 times more likely to drop out of high school than students who are not held back a grade. Recent research shows these adverse effects are even more significant for Black and Hispanic girls who are held back a grade.
If you hold a child back when they are young, they won’t notice or experience the adverse effects.
The research shows that grade retention is ineffective whether a child is younger or older.
It is certainly true that some children can benefit from grade retention. The problem is that no research to date can help us predict which students would benefit from it and which would not. And given the adverse effects that grade retention can have on children, it is not a research-supported intervention for struggling students.
If your child has already experienced grade retention, we don’t want you to worry. We are trying to show that grade retention in and of itself is not going to be the solution to help your child if they are struggling.
What should you do if your school is recommending grade retention?
If your child’s school is recommending grade retention, please share with them this wonderful handout provided by the National Association for School Psychologists (NASP) on grade retention.
The most important thing is to understand why your child is struggling and provide them with the interventions and support they need to succeed. So, if your school recommends that your child be held back a grade INSTEAD of evaluating your child, that is a problem.
You can better understand your child’s diagnoses, strengths, and needs through a comprehensive evaluation. For instance, if your child has ADHD, they will benefit from specific interventions. Or if your child has a reading disorder or dyslexia, they will benefit from a different form of instruction. You can use this guide to request testing through your school. If you are seeking out a private evaluation, check out this blog.
Let us know in the comments what questions you still have about grade retention.
And if you have a child with ADHD, we have an entire online course dedicated to helping your child at school! You can check it out here: Shining at School.
Have a great week!
Lori, Katie, and Mallory