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Can Retention Be Good for a Student?


Retention has been found to have negative impacts on student victims while trying to help them in learning, although the current curriculum is stuck to this practice. These negative impacts include emotional harm, and further deterioration of performance. According to the National Association of School Psychology (2003), students may experience “significant increase in behavior problems”, in addition to possible negative impacts on self-esteem or overall school judgment. For example, according to this body, retention was rated by 6th grade students as causing stress even more than loosing a parent or being blind. Another negative impact associated with retention is more likelihood of drop outs of victim students (National Center for Education Statistics, 2004). Students who are retained are not given extra help just another year to be in the same grade doing the same hard work while their peers are ahead of them. They are more likely to be made fun of and to become withdrawn. While the No Child Left Behind Act sought to improve the student performance through setting targets and individual student’s evaluation, there is need to seek for solutions like search for more alternatives and exploration of the available alternatives to student retention in order to counteract the negative impacts of retention. In addition, the parents can fight policies which are there to ensure mandatory retention (Wrightslaw, 2008). Retention therefore is not good for students, and alternatives need be emphasized. Research supports alternatives that promote the cognitive as well as the social competence and contribute to better outcome (NASP, 2003). This paper seeks to look into the issue of retention, discuss the requirements for it, the current practice for retention, the pros and cons of retention and the way forward to the current practice.

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Retention and the requirements

According to estimates, about 30-50% of all the students in the United States are retained before the ninth grade while 15% are held back for retention each year. The use of grade retention has also gone up over the last 25 years according to National Association of School Psychologists (2003).

The requirement to have retention in schools is described in the No Child Left Behind Act. Senator Kennedy of Massachusetts and the California’s Rep. George Miller contributed to the formation of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001 and in the following year, it was accented by the President Bush to become a new law. The law has been criticized on many grounds despite its efforts to ensure accountability of the teachers in schools at the school level (GAO, 2004), accountability at district and also state level, add more freedom to parents to caring for their child’s performance by changing the school, ensuring that proper reporting of the child’s performance and increasing accessibility to free environment by the students with disabilities among other issues of benefits. The No Child Left Behind championed to increase accountability of schools and teachers to performance of the individual children, ensure and increase individual performance, improve reporting of the individual performance reporting to parents for easy assessment by the parents, and also sought to solve some issues related to the disabled children like the evaluation. The law has however received criticism on the basis that it puts pressure on and encourages teachers to teach what will be examined so that they perform best and hence the teachers will not be blamed for failure. Another criticism is that it reduces learning and the effective instruction because states may reduce the achievement goal, since the states are mandated to set the achievement goals in their part. Teachers also tend to apply the methods that have been proved as having worked. If learning and the effective instruction in the education system are gradually eroded, the final products of the system may not serve the intended purpose. In addition, teaching must be diversified while being delivered so as to offer more than what is required by the curriculum and hence the need to have them teach only or much of what is examinable must be avoided at all cost. Continued criticism must be accompanied with research evidence so as to qualify as the basis for making the necessary changes in order to ensure that the problems presented are solved. Thus research holds an important position in ensuring that the contentious issues related to the law are identified, analyzed, and a basis to ensuring that the means to a good end are sought through possible alternatives is set. Research must be linked with practice so as to achieve the desired results through planning and careful implementation of education programs.

In NCLBA, annual goals are developed by states for AYP-adequate yearly progress and students must become proficient in math and reading/language arts by 2013-2014. All students are assessed through state assessment, and schools must prove that 95% of the students passed through the assessment. Annual progress is assessed by the state through use of academic indicators for elementary and middle schools while high schools should include graduation rates. Schools receiving Title 1 funds are required to allow students to move from their current schools if no improvement is made after two years (GAO, 2004). It can be found that retention is itself not fair if applied equally through the country because other factors come to destabilize such a possibility of equality. To retain students, the schools may therefore find themselves in an effort of ensuring students excel by any efforts. In addition, a teacher who has students recording no improvement may be perceived as not performing and therefore teachers may do anything to achieve improved results.

Retention and its negative impacts on students

One of the problems of retention is that it stresses children because of the threats issued after they fail to reach certain percentiles to the extent that they fear retention more than loss of parent or even blindness by the time they reach 6th grade. This is a psychological negative impact of retention. This was indicated by a study in 1980s and retention was rated in the 2001 replication of the same study, as the only most stressful event higher than the other two aforementioned (Anderson, Jimerson & Wipple, 2002; cited in Anderson, Angela, & Shane, n.d.). According to Jimerson, (2001; qtd. in Anderson, Angela, & Shane, n.d.), students who were retained would possibly suffer lower self-esteem, low school attendance rates than their promoted peers. Students would also, according to these authors face other problems such as stigmatization by their peers. The research has found out that some groups, namely, those who have regularly changed school, those whose parents are less participatory in their academics, those from poor and single parenthood status, those who have delayed developments and / or attention problems, and late birthdays, the African Americans or Hispanics and the males. In addition, those with behavioral and reading problems are more likely to be retained. In this category also lie those who display immaturity and aggression. It can therefore be concluded that it is not fair to apply the requirement with retention across all groups of students without special measures being put in place to reduce the discrepancies. Retention cannot be an all-for-good solution because these problems will still remain after retention. Subsequent retention is therefore more likely to occur to these groups of individuals who will end up becoming more psychologically affected for their performance through humiliation. It has been proved through research that positive results may be evident after the first year of retention and deteriorate after 2-3 years of retention to result in further poor performance or no better changes in performance (NASP, 2003). These students would therefore drop from school so as to run away from these problems. The aforementioned author indicates that students were able to experience negative impacts on the social-emotional adjustments including their ability to relate, self esteem (Whitney, 2007) and behavior problems. This was found in a result for an analysis that involved 19 empirical studies that considered retention outcomes and matched them with those of students that were promoted carried out in 1960s at the elementary level.

Children who encountered delayed entry in kindergarten or retention had a higher chance of dropping out of school than their counterparts who had never been retained even when achievement levels were controlled. Dropping out would be easier with multiple retentions according to research, which has also shown retention to be one of the most “powerful predictors” for drop outs of high school students but a lot single retention was capable of causing drop out and has been found (NASP, 2003). Further, in addition to the possibility of dropping out of school before reaching 19 years, retention was likely to cause student victims experience other problems like lower levels of academic adjustment and a lower likelihood for receiving a diploma by the age of 19 years. These children would also more likely receive lower grading after secondary school, low competence rating as employees, be unemployed, be in prison and low wages per hour as compared to promoted low achievers who are comparable to other peers at age 20 (NASP, 2003). Further, the likelihood of children finally dropping out of school as need to run away from humiliation, acting in sadness associated with being behind in grade than their peers, stigmatization also exist.

Why Retention is good for students

Embarrassments, anger among others are the characters Students promoted without the academic skills. Research has also found that social promotion can negatively influence the students and concluded that it is not a cheap option for retention.

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Social promotion refers to a situation where the child would be passed to the next grade even without having qualified if he fails to satisfactorily make improvements. Retention has been indicated to possibly cause positive effects when it is applied for those students who lacked opportunity for instruction yet were able to make it through. Research has indicated that retention may have positive impacts on the first year. This can be used as a starting point where students would be retained in the first year and if they fail to make sufficient improvement to have necessary alternatives take over. This may be considerate if the lack of opportunity is linked to attendance/health or mobility problems that have been resolved. Again, retention can be effective if specialized remedies are applied to ensure that special cases are attended to, for example skill and behavioral deficits (NASP, 2003).

While retention may have negative impacts, it is necessary to note that students who would be promoted having not attained the grade will still have the problem. It is therefore important to seriously look for the alternative solutions which can be applied to solve the problem, other than forwarding it.

Alternatives to retention

Research has proposed there be intervention strategies that make social and cognitive development possible. These strategies would be attached to the schools’ requirement on student accountability. In addition, it is recommended that there will be follow-up strategies and early interventions. Development of effective instruction need be by tactics which are based on extensive research which provides well researched and evidence-based for the strategies for development and that deal with retention and social promotion. Parents must be made to realize that they need to participate in the academics and development of their sons. In this line, they need to link with teachers and access their children on a personal level by requiring assessment reports and progress of their children frequently, supervise homework, and encourage their sons and daughters to work hard. Interventions such as “promotion plus” that seek to address issues that expose students to risks for failure at school should replace ineffective methods like retention and social promotion. Parents need to collaborate with other people like psychologists to make sure the actual problems their sons or daughters have are identified and resolved or dealt with through interventions that are not retention or social promotion solutions. There is the need to launch necessary programs to assist the needy where they don’t exist. Such programs include summer schools, tutoring, well-designed homework activities and reading programs (Anderson, Angela, & Shane, n.d).


In conclusion, although some people think that students should be retained if they are behind academically. Retention can be emotionally harmful to a student for two main reasons. First, chances of dropping out for the retained students are very high. Secondly, problems may not end after all. Most importantly, Students become sad, angry, and embarrassed about being behind their peers. There are alternatives out there that are research-based that can prevent students from dropping out and emotionally harming them. Let us try these options.

Annotated Bibliography

Gabrielle E. Anderson, Angela D. Whipple, & Shane R. Jimerson, NCSP. Grade Retention Achievement and Mental Health Outcomes. Web.

This article consist material discussing retention as proved by researchers and studies as ineffective, but discuses the weakness of the research. However, the article supports poor performance of students after retention after some time (couple of years). In addition to discussing long-time impacts of retention as being negative, the article also discuses the impacts of retention on mental health as negative. The articles also discuses the alternatives to retention, the role of parents and tutors.

Gabrielle E. Anderson, Angela D. Whipple, & Shane R. Jimerson, NCSP (2002). Grade Retention Achievement and Mental Health Outcomes. Santa Barbara. Web.

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This amazing article was written by the National Association of school psychologist (NASP) which represents school psychology and supports school psychologists everywhere. This article was against the process of retention of today’s youths. In the article it explains the problems it causes to youths emotionally. The article was very clear about the impact retention has on the mental health of today’s youth such as high stress levels, lower self esteem and fear! More fear of retention than loosing a parent or going blind states 6th graders. In the end this article was a great resource to show that retention is not good for students.

National Center for Education Statistics. (2004) Grade Retention. Washington. Web.

This is an exceptional resource for educational statistics on the condition of American education. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is used by many agencies. The general public can use the NCES to stay informed, the federal agencies use the NCES to follow the subjects being taught and the supply of trained manpower in today’s schools, Congress uses the NCES to plan federal education programs and serve the needs of the constituent. The NCES shows a study spanning 9 years that illustrates extensive research in students retained between the ages of 16-19, between the grades of 6-12th , race, ethnicity, gender, family income.

National Association of school psychologist (2003). Position Statement on Student Grade Retention and Social Promotion. Bethesda. Web.

National Association of school psychologist ( NASP) represents school psychology and supports school psychologists to enhance the learning and mental health of all children and youth. The NASP represents over 26,500 school psychologists from across the United States and other countries. Education faces the challenges of students not performing up to academic standards, the impact of mental health issues as the implementation of key legislation such as No Child Left behind. This is a great resource for the psychological statistics of who is at risk for grade retention. NASP urges schools and parents to seek alternatives to retention that more effectively address the specific instructional needs of academic underachievers.

Stump Colleen, Ph.D (2008). Repeating a Grade: The Pros and Cons. California. Web.

This is an exceptional article from an author who is a part of an amazing non profit organization dedicated to children in preschool through graduation. The organization called Great schools can help any parent find schools in different cities, help with providing information on tutoring, moving, learning disabilities and more. This particular article is giving information to a parent that perhaps has already been told “We’d like to retain your child.” And gives a multitude of information on what to expect, reasons for retention, and the outcome of retaining children and even alternatives to retention. I would recommend this site to any parent before they made a decision on their child’s education.

Whitney, S. (2007). 10 Strategies to Fight Mandatory Retention & Other Damaging Policies. New Hampshire. Web.

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This is an exceptional resource for information to the general public about understanding the law and student’s rights. The author speaks about how retention can harm children’s self esteem and humiliate them. She presents information on the law, what schools must do prior to selecting retention and research about retention. The author provides strategies to fighting mandatory retention policies. This is an excellent resource if a parent needs information on fighting their child’s grade retention.

GAO. No Child Left Behind Act. No Child Left Behind Act. Additional Assistance and Research on Effective Strategies Would Help Small Rural Districts. (2004). Web.

The material contains information on the research carried out by United States Government Accountability Office and found that rural district officials were more likely to report challenges than their counterparts in the non-rural area where challenges were more. The study involved interview of rural officials and district officials. The study sampled 1215 school districts and received 85% response.

NICHD (1998). Why children succeed or fail at reading. Web.

This source consist information on research carried by NICHD on reading disabilities. This material consists of information which is essential in identifying the students’ data as relates to reading disabilities. Because learning to read is an activity which is essential in school for young aged children, the research can be helpful in supporting that instructors and school administrators hold an important responsibility towards formulating of curriculum in school.

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