The Impact of Retention on Student Educational Outcomes: A Five Year Study of a Group of Retained and Socially Promoted Fifth Graders

by Houck, Deborah Anne

Abstract (Summary)
Accountability has become a major focus in educational reform and an increasing number of states and school districts are adopting policies to end social promotion. These policies generally include mandatory retention for students who fail to meet cut-off scores on high-stakes tests. Despite compelling evidence to the contrary, educators believe that underachieving students need, or deserve, to be retained and will benefit from repeating a grade. Using archival data from a large urban school district in North Carolina, this longitudinal study investigated the educational outcomes of a cohort of 1,575 students who did not meet promotion standards in their fifth grade gateway year. District policies required that all of these students receive targeted interventions after failing state tests, regardless of whether they were socially promoted or retained. Students were tracked over a five year period, through their next gateway year as eighth-graders. Comparisons between the promoted and retained groups were made in the following areas: sex, race, age, income level, special education status, achievement levels, suspensions, absences, subsequent placements in special education, subsequent retentions, and percentage meeting promotion standards in gateway years. Results indicated that retention provided no educational benefit or value to these students. Achievement gains noted in their repeated year were not sustained, and their achievement scores in both reading and math had fallen significantly below their non-retained counterparts by eighth grade. Behavior problems increased for the group of retained students and multiple retentions put them at serious risk for dropping out. Finally, a significantly higher percentage of non-retained students were able to meet promotion standards when they reached the eighth grade gateway as compared to those who were retained. This study concluded that retention is not a cost-effective strategy for low-achieving students. Rather than funding an extra year of schooling for these students, the district‘s money would be much better spent on funding proven, evidence-based interventions and qualified personnel.
Bibliographical Information:


School:Indiana University of Pennsylvania

School Location:USA - Pennsylvania

Source Type:Master's Thesis



Date of Publication:08/07/2008

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