Retaining Students in Grade

A Literature Review of the Effects of Retention on Students' Academic and Nonacademic Outcomes

by Nailing Xia, Sheila Nataraj Kirby

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Abstract

Grade retention is the practice of keeping low-achieving students at the same grade level for an additional year to provide them with extra time to catch up, as opposed to social promotion, the practice of promoting students regardless of whether they have mastered the grade content. As part of an increasing emphasis on standards and accountability, many districts now use standardized test scores as one of the main criteria for grade retention. However, studies have shown that students do not appear to benefit from being retained and, indeed, that retention may increase their risk of dropping out of school. In 2003–2004, the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) implemented a new promotion policy for 3rd-grade students, which was later extended to 5th, 7th, and 8th graders. NYCDOE asked RAND to conduct an independent longitudinal evaluation to provide evidence of the program's impact on 5th graders. This report, one of in a series documenting the results of the study (conducted between March 2006 and August 2009) identifies and reviews 91 studies that examine the effect of grade retention on a variety of student academic and socioemotional outcomes.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    Methodological Issues

  • Chapter Three

    Characteristics of Retained Students

  • Chapter Four

    Relationship Between Grade Retention and Student Outcomes

  • Chapter Five

    Conclusions

  • Appendix

    Summaries of Reviewed Studies

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was prepared for the New York City Department of Education and conducted within RAND Education, a unit of the RAND Corporation.

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