Grade retention is requiring that a student re-enroll in the same grade for a second year. As of January 2018, schools in 25 states could retain third graders who were not reading on grade level. In 16 of those states, including North Carolina, retention for such students was required.1

In addition, grade retention may be recommended by teachers when a student demonstrates:

  • Developmental delays
  • Behavioral challenges
  • Lack of motivation to learn2

There is not yet a national consensus on whether grade retention is helpful or harmful.3

Negative effects of retention can include:

  • Stigmatizing children in the eyes of teachers and/or other students4
  • Retained children believing that they are not capable5
  • Reducing children’s engagement in school6
  • Worsening school performance7
  • Increasing the likelihood of school drop out8
  • Increasing racial disparities in educational outcomes9

On the other hand, the alternative to retention does not improve students’ educational success.10 Social promotion means passing a student on to the next grade level, even if he or she has not met grade level expectations.Social promotion pushes children into learning contexts they may not be ready for academically.

Show 10 footnotes

  1.  National Conference of State Legislatures, Third Grade Reading Legislation, January 2018. Retrieved from: http://www.ncsl.org/research/education/third-grade-reading-legislation.aspx and 3rd Grade Reading Retention: A Closer Look at North Carolina’s Literacy Law. (2015). Ed Week. Retrieved from http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/curriculum/2015/10/3rd_grade_reading_retention_closer_look_north_carolina_literacy_law.html
  2.  Essential Questions about Grade Retention, (2016). About Education. Retrieved from: http://teaching.about.com/od/pd/a/School-Retention.htm
  3.  Cannon, J. and Lipscomb, S. (2011). Early Grade Retention and Student Success: Evidence from Los Angeles. Public Policy Institute for California. Retrieved from http://www.ppic.org/content/pubs/report/R_311JCR.pdf
  4.  The scarring effects of primary grade retention?, op cit.
  5.  The scarring effects of primary grade retention?, op cit.
  6.  The scarring effects of primary grade retention?, op cit.
  7.  The scarring effects of primary grade retention?, op cit.
  8.  Andrew, M. 2014. The scarring effects of primary grade retention? A study of cumulative advantage in the educational career. Social Forces 93(2) 653-685. Oxford University Press.
  9.  Andrew, M. 2014. The scarring effects of primary grade retention? A study of cumulative advantage in the educational career. Social Forces 93(2) 653-685. Oxford University Press.
  10.  Position Statement on Student Grade Retention and Social Promotion. (2003). National Association for School Psychologists. Retrieved from: http://www.cdl.org/articles/position-statement-on-student-grade-retention-and-social-promotion/

Read More About This Issue

14.4%
of students were retained in 2015-2016 for not demonstrating reading proficiency on third grade standards under Read to Achieve
(Source:

NC Public Schools/NC State Board of Education/NC DPI Report to the NC General Assembly Improve K-3 Literacy Accountability Measures, October 2015

)
13%
of students in 2015 were held back in kindergarten in one NC county
(Source:

Child Care Services Association

)
5%
of NC students in 2015 were held back kindergarten
(Source:

Child Care Services Association

)

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