How does retention affect children? The National Association of School Psychologists, in the paper, Grade Retention: Achievement and Mental Health Outcomes
, refers to a higher dropout rate among students who have been retained.
Analysis of multiple studies of retention indicate that retained students experience lower self esteem and lower rates of school attendance, relative to promoted peers (Jimerson, 2001). Both of these factors are further predictive of dropping out of school. Indirectly, low self-esteem and poor school attendance influence adult outcomes. Students who ultimately drop out of school without a diploma face considerable difficulty finding and maintaining employment for self-sufficiency and experience higher rates of mental health problems, chemical abuse and criminal activities than do high school graduates.
Retention leads to dropping out of school, which leads to adult problems.
...retained children are subsequently overage for grade, which is associated with deleterious outcomes, particularly as retained children approach middle school and puberty (stigmatization by peers and other negative experiences of grade retention may exacerbate behavioral and socio-emotional adjustment problems).
In a synthesis of Grade Retention Research
, Shane Jimerson made the following conclusions:
- Achievement for retained students is lower than if they had been "socially" promoted.
- Emotionally, retained students have poorer social adjustment, attitudes toward school, attendance, and more problem behaviors in comparison to matched controls.
- Retained students had lower levels of academic adjustment at the end of 11th grade, were more likely to drop out of high school by age 19, were less likely to receive a diploma by age 20, were less likely to be enrolled in a post- secondary education program, received lower education/employment status ratings, were paid less per hour, and received poorer employment competence ratings at age 20 in comparison to a group of low-achieving students.
A massive amount of research is consistent. Retention in Grade doesn't help and, in fact, hurts students (See the sidebar of this blog for RESEARCH ON RETENTION IN GRADE
Last week the Indiana Board of Education proposed a plan in which third graders would have to pass a test in order to be promoted to fourth grade. Indystar.com reports
All third-graders would be required to pass a new statewide reading test before advancing to the fourth grade under a proposal the Indiana State Board of Education approved Tuesday.
Gov. Mitch Daniels is expected to approve the plan, which would take effect for students finishing third grade in the spring of 2013 -- curtailing the so-called "social promotion" of third-graders.
Why? Where's the research which shows this to be an effective practice? It didn't work in Chicago
or New York City
. Why should we expect it to work in Indiana?
A common response from proponents of retention is that social promotion doesn't work so retention is "the only thing left." I agree that social promotion isn't necessarily best for students (though the research in retention shows that it is better than holding students back), but it's wrong to assume that social promotion and retention are the only choices. The National Association of School Psychologists continues
Early identification (through assessment) for prevention and intervention is essential, whenever a student is struggling. Several school-based supports have been found to be effective in assisting children with educational difficulties. These include various reading programs, summer school and more direct instruction (teacher to student). Tutoring, well-designed homework activities and after- school programs have also been demonstrated to be beneficial. Other helpful strategies include encouraging parents to communicate regularly with the school and to become involved through attending student study team (SST) meetings, participating in training programs and exploring behavior management strategies if appropriate. Most important is to advocate for implementation of educational interventions that are supported by research first, continue monitoring the child’s achievement trajectory, and then revisit the progress made. A coordinated system of comprehensive support services aimed at addressing the academic, socio-emotional, behavioral and psychological needs of the child will help promote healthy adjustment and achievement among children at risk for grade retention.
When weighing the pros and cons of a decision to retain or promote a student, it is critical to emphasize to educators and parents that a century of research has failed to demonstrate the benefits of grade retention over promotion to the next grade for any group of students. Instead, we must focus on implementing evidence-based prevention and intervention strategies to promote social and cognitive competence and facilitate the academic success of all students.
One sentence in the above paragraph bears repeating:
...a century of research has failed to demonstrate the benefits of grade retention over promotion to the next grade for any group of students.
Interventions cost money and are difficult. America doesn't care enough about their children to invest in them. Instead, as is the trend in state and national departments of education, executive offices and legislatures, the choice is to punish not support. Punish students, schools and teachers for "failing."
...and I haven't even addressed the issue of basing retention on the outcome of one test!
What do schools do if they can't afford research-based intervention? In my opinion, and from the research, it's clear that retention is more harmful than social promotion.
The Indiana Department of Education, is proposing to do significant damage to children in Indiana. The Governor is going to go along with it. The truth based on research, it seems, doesn't matter.