Is Grade Retention Right for Your Child?

Boy reading

Grade retention refers to the practice of keeping a child in the same grade for more than one year, typically because of poor school performance. In most cases, parents and educators retain students because they have not mastered the skills needed to be successful at the next grade level. They believe that receiving the same instruction for another year will provide more time for the child to learn the skills and mature physically and intellectually.

When Retention May Help

Under certain circumstances, retention can have a positive impact on a child's learning. Generally, retention can help when:

  • A child has missed a lot of instruction because of absences.
  • Instruction has been inconsistent because of frequent family relocations and attendance at more than one school.
  • The child has a late birthday, which makes her actually a year younger than most other students at her grade level.
  • The child has experienced serious illnesses or emotional trauma that has impacted his ability to stay on task and maintain attention and stamina in the classroom.

When Retention May Not Help

Research on the effectiveness of retention has shown that, in many cases, retention alone is not sufficient to resolve students' learning problems. If a student experiencing underachievement, has a learning disability or other learning problem, retention alone may not be helpful. In these cases, students will need more educational support such as:

Some negatives associated with grade retention include:

  • Students' self-esteem may be affected as their friends move up a grade level without them.
  • Students who are physically more mature than others may feel self-conscious around children who are smaller and appear younger.

What Can Be Done to Avoid Problems With Retention?

  • Ensure that any problems with attendance are addressed. Children with chronic attendance problems are likely to continue falling behind and are statistically more likely to drop out than others.
  • Address any health problems that may affect a child's ability to learn. If it is necessary for a child to miss a lot of school because of sickness or medical treatment, talk with your school's principal about the possibility of homebound tutoring that may be available to your child. Arrange for teachers to provide assignments to you for your child to complete at home. If your child has a disability, it is possible she may receive specially designed instruction at home if necessary to reach her Individual Education Program goals.
  • Frequent moves are sometimes unavoidable, but parents can reduce the negative impact on their children by working closely with schools to learn how to help their children catch up at home. Tutoring beyond the school day (to address academic problems caused by moving) may not be available, so parents will need to be prepared to provide extensive support at home or through private programs at their own expense.
  • Consider what supports are available for your child and what classroom expectations will be if you decide not to retain her. Your child's teachers, counselor, and the school principal can help you realistically evaluate your child's needs, the support available, and the likelihood of his success should he be promoted rather than retained.
2 Sources
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  1. Peterson LS, Hughes JN. The Differences between Retained and Promoted Children in Educational Services ReceivedPsychol Sch. 2011;48(2):156-165. doi:10.1002/pits.20534

  2. Peixoto F, Monteiro V, Mata L, Sanches C, Pipa J, Almeida LS. "To be or not to be Retained … That's the Question!" Retention, Self-esteem, Self-concept, Achievement Goals, and Grades. Front Psychol. 2016;7:1550. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01550

By Ann Logsdon
Ann Logsdon is a school psychologist specializing in helping parents and teachers support students with a range of educational and developmental disabilities.