Grade Retention Redux: A Dissenting Perspective

  • Jon Lorence
Part of the Springer International Handbooks of Education book series (SIHE, volume 21)

A common educational practice with a controversial history is requiring students to repeat a grade. School administrators and teachers often require failing students to repeat the same grade the next school year. Many educators assume that making academically-challenged students retake a grade will enable them to learn the mate rial they initially did not comprehend. Proponents of retention assume that, unless a student has learned the required material, allowing a child who failed a grade to advance to the next grade — the practice of social promotion — will cause the student considerable frustration and eventually will result in further failure. This reasoning also underlies the increasing demand by legislators, public officials, and business executives that students who fail state competency exams should be required to repeat a grade. Indeed, a major reason for greater educational accountability stand ards now required by state and federal officials is the perception that low-performing students are merely socially promoted from one grade to another without learning the required material. These assumptions underlie President Clinton's (1998) call to end social promotion and the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (2002) implemented by the Bush administration which recommended students demonstrate grade level competencies before promotion to the next grade level.

However, the consensus among educational researchers is that forcing low achieving students to repeat a grade is an inappropriate, if not harmful, educational practice. Most college of education professors claim that research overwhelming demonstrates retention in elementary grades is not an effective remediation strategy to enhance student learning outcomes (e.g., Mantzicopoulos & Morrison, 1992; Shepard & Smith, 1990). Jimerson (2004) even argues that grade retention is so detrimental to student academic progress that it is “educational malpractice.” The view that mak ing academically-challenged students repeat a grade is harmful to their long-term academic success also pervades publications which address the practical concerns of teachers and educational administrators (e.g., Owings & Kaplan, 2001). Regardless of how poorly students may have performed, critics of retention maintain it is better to place a low-performing pupil in the next grade so that the student can remain with classmates and not be viewed as a failure. This perspective assumes retained students suffer such a devastating blow to their self image that they lose interest in their stud ies and eventually leave school before obtaining a high school degree (Jimerson, Anderson, & Whipple, 2002).


Academic Achievement Academic Performance Initial Difference Item Response Theory Model Achievement Score 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jon Lorence
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of SociologyThe University of HoustonHouston77204

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