Retention is one of the most controversial issues in education today. The main reason for this controversy is that, despite substantial empirical evidence against its use, retention continues to be strongly recommended and widely used by many educators in public schools (Byrnes & Yamamoto, 1986). Schools are under considerable pressure to maintain acceptably high levels of grade retention as proof of high standards. Public belief in the efficacy of retention also creates a powerful mandate for its use (Sheppard & Smith, 1990). Research on grade retention, focusing on the effects on childrenís academic performance and on social and personal adjustment, has been inconclusive (Steiner, 1986).


These research notes focus on retention as a practice that effects student progress and addresses the following questions:


1. What are the ideas or reasons for the use of this practice?

2. What does the research say?

3. What are alternatives to retention?

4. What considerations should be taken into account when implementing this practice?




Retention or non-promotion is the practice of requiring a child to repeat a particular grade or requiring a child of appropriate chronological age to delay entry to the next grade (Setencich, 1994).

 1. What are the ideas or reasons for the use of this practice?






2. What does the research say?













Effects On Students





3. What are the alternatives to retention?

















For additional information on programs for at-risk students, contact the Center for Research on the Education for Students Placed at Risk (CRESPAR), John Hopkins University/Howard University.



4. What considerations should be taken into account when implementing this practice?


When implementing the practice of retention, research suggests that these six questions should be considered:


    1. What do schools hope to accomplish through the use of retention?

  2. How will this practice affect:

3. What are the effects on academic achievement of at-risk students? ESE students? And the remainder of the population?

4. What conditions are necessary to effectively implement this practice?

5. What alternatives might be implemented in lieu of this practice?

6. What skills are needed by the staff?


Retention Resources

1. Bredekamp, S. & L. Shepard. How Best To Protect Children From Inappropriate School Expectations. Young Children, v44, pp78-86, March,1989.


2. Byrnes, D. & K. Yamamoto. Views On Grade Repetition. Journal of Research and Development in Education, v20, pp14-20.


3. Center For Policy Research in Education. Repeating Grades In School: Current Practice and Research Evidence. CPRE Policy Brief, p9, 1990. ED323585.


4. Charlesworth, R. Behind Before They Start? Deciding How to Deal With The Risk of Kindergarten Failure. Young Children, v44, pp5-13, March, 1989.


5. Dejong, Lorraine. Retention in Early Childhood Education: Staus of the Issue. SERVE Research Brief, University of North Carolina at Greensboro.


6. Hollomon, S. Retention and Redshirting: The Dark Side of Kindergarten. Principal, pp13-15, May, 1990.


7. Holmes, T.M. & K.M. Matthews. The Effects of Non-Promotion on Elementary and Junior High School Pupils. Review of Educational Research, v54, pp225-236, 1984.


8. Karweit, Nancy. Repeating A Grade - Time To Grow or Denial of Opportunity? Center for Research on Effective Schools for Disadvantaged Students, Report No. 16, May 1991.


9. Martinez, B. & Judity A. Vandergrift. Failing Students - Is It Worth the Cost? Issue paper #3, Morrison Institute for Public Policy, Arizona State University, 1991.


10. Peterson, S.E., DeGracie, J.S. & C.R. Ayabe. A Longitudinal Study of the Effects of Retention/Promotion on Academic Achievement. Educational Research Journal, v24, pp107-118, 1987.


11. Setencich, Jill. The Impact of Early Grade Retention on the Academic Achievement and Self-Esteem of Seventh and Eighth Grade Students. Paper presented in California, 1994.


12. Shepard, L. A. & M. L. Smith. Effects of Kindergarten Retention: A Qualitative Study of Teacherís Beliefs and Practices. American Educational Research Journal, v25, pp307-333, 1987.


13. Shepard, L. A. & M. L. Smith. Flunking Grades: Research and Policies on Grade Retention. Falmer Press, New York, 1989.


14. Smith, M. L. & L. A. Shepard. Kindergarten Readiness and Retention: A Qualitative Study of Teachersí Beliefs and Practices. American Educational Research Journal, v25, pp307-33, 1988.


15. Shepard, L. A. & M. L. Smith. Synthesis of Research on School Readiness and Kindergarten Retention. Educational Leadership, v44, pp78-86, 1986.


16. Steiner, Karen. Grade Retention and Promotion. ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education, Urbana, Illinois, pp1-8. U.S. Department of Education, Office of Education Research and Improvement, 1986.


Online Sources


1. Costello, Mary Ann. Providing Effective Schooling for Students At Risk. [Online] Available


2. Katz, Lillian. Non-Graded and Mixed-Age Grouping in Early Childhood Programs. [Online] Available


3. Sutton, Larry. An Alternative for the Social Promotion of Over-Aged Middle School Students. [Online] Available



4. Teacher College Research. Scholarship and Practice - The Case of Research on Retention. [Online] Available


If you have further questions concerning this review and/or the sources, please contact Margarida Southard or Sylvia Collier at 488-7007, extenion 318 .