Is holding kids back a grade the answer to some learning problems?

15 Feb

In Reading is a key component of learning moi said:

The goal of parents, teachers, students, and society should be that all children succeed in obtaining a good basic education. In order to achieve this goal, children must come to school ready to learn. See, Illiteracy in America

The University of Michigan Health Center explains why reading is important in the article, Reading, Literacy and Your Child:

What is literacy?

Literacy means being able to read and write.

Why is reading important?

A child’s reading skills are important to their success in school and work. In addition, reading can be a fun and imaginative activity for children, which opens doors to all kinds of new worlds for them.  Reading and writing are important ways we use language to communicate.

How do reading and language skills develop?

For an answer to this question, check out the following link:

Research has identified five early reading skills that are all essential.  They are [1]:

  • Phonemic awareness—Being able to hear, identify, and play with individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words.

  • Phonics—Being able to connect the letters of written language with the sounds of spoken language.

  • Vocabulary—The words kids need to know to communicate effectively.

  • Reading comprehension—Being able to understand and get meaning from what has been read.

  • Fluency (oral reading)—Being able to read text accurately and quickly.


Regan Mc Mahon of Common Sense Media has written the article, How to Raise a Reader which gives advice about how to raise a child who loves to read.

Education is a partnership between the student, parent(s) or guardian(s), the teacher(s), and the school. All parts of the partnership must be active and involved. Parents are an important part because they enforce lessons learned at school by reading to their children and taking their children for regular library time. Children who do not arrive at school ready to learn will not only face learning challenges, but in some states may face the prospect of being held back in the third grade.

Stephanie Banchero is reporting in the Wall Street Journal article, Bills Prod Schools to Hold Back Third-Graders:

Lawmakers in at least four states are considering legislation that would make students repeat third grade if they can’t pass state reading exams, reviving debates about whether retaining students boosts achievement or increases their odds of dropping out…

“The goal is not to retain students, but to get parents, teachers and students all working collaboratively to address the literacy problems when they first show up,” said Colorado state Sen. Mike Johnston, a Democrat who is a sponsor of the bill. Iowa, New Mexico and Tennessee also are considering bills on the issue.

All the bills, as well as similar ones that passed recently in Oklahoma, Arizona and Indiana, aim to address literacy deficiencies that exist nationwide. Only one-third of U.S. schoolchildren had proficient scores on the most recent national reading exam, and scores have barely budged in two decades. That comes as children have made steady gains in math.

A recent report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that children who don’t read proficiently by third grade are four times as likely to drop out of school. Third grade is seen as so important for reading because many other subjects begin in earnest the following school year. Also, third grade is the year that federal law mandates all states must begin testing reading and math.

The country has spent billions on failed reading strategies. Now, states are taking a different tack: push individualized reading instruction in the early grades and hold back kids who don’t pass muster by third grade.

But the evidence is mixed on whether retention helps or hurts kids. Chicago made national headlines in the late 1990s by holding back tens of thousands of students who were deficient in math and reading. But a series of studies by the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago found that, in general, retained students did no better in later years than students who had nearly identical academic achievement but were promoted. Retained students also were more likely to have dropped out.

“These children would have been just as well off if they had not been retained. It didn’t solve anything,” said Jenny Nagaoka, associate director at the consortium, who did some of the research. Chicago has quietly relaxed the promotion rules, making it easier for low-performing students to move ahead.

There is no guarantee that holding students back in the third grade is the answer.

Emily Richmond writes in the Atlantic article, Third Grade Again: The Trouble With Holding Students Back:

But, as the Wall Street Journal’s Stephanie Banchero points out, the findings on whether retention is good for students is more of a mixed bag. Florida implemented a third-grade retention initiative in 2002, and saw its fourth-grade reading scores soar. But reading scores for the state’s eighth grader have flatlined.

Arizona, along with Indiana and Oklahoma, recently passed legislation to hold back third graders who are not reading at grade level. When asked where he stood on his state’s initiative to hold back third graders, educational psychologist David Berliner — the Regents Professor of Education at Arizona State University — was blunt in his assessment.

“It seems like legislators are absolutely ignorant of the research, and the research is amazingly consistent that holding kids back is detrimental,” Berliner said. “Everybody supports the idea that if a student isn’t reading well in third grade that it’s a signal that the child needs help. If you hold them back, you’re going to spend roughly another $10,000 per child for an extra year of schooling. If you spread out that $10,000 over the fourth and fifth grades for extra tutoring, in the long run you’re going to get a better outcome.”
Retention rates vary widely from state to state, and recent national statistics are hard to come by. Researchers have estimated that 15 percent of the nation’s K-12 students are retained each year. (The National Association of School Psychologists put the figure at 2 million in 2004.)

Research has shown that minority students attending inner-city campuses are more likely to be held back a grade than their white peers at more affluent neighborhood schools. Boys are also more likely to be retained than girls.

Berliner believes that for the overwhelming majority of students who are held back, it was the wrong decision.
“There are stories where it was clearly the right thing, and the student moves up to the next grade more confident — I don’t want to negate that,” Berliner said. “But it’s the wrong move for the vast majority of students. And since we don’t know in advance which kids won’t benefit, it’s simply the wrong policy decision.”

There’s plenty of evidence that the nation’s students are struggling with literacy. On the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress, often referred to as “The Nation’s Report Card,” reading scores had stagnated….

While lawmakers wrangle over whether to hold back struggling students, the Campaign For Grade-Level Reading is focusing on three key factors aimed directly at improving the next set of NAEP scores — readiness, attendance, and summer learning. The overarching goal is to have students arrive at school with the fundamental reading readiness skills they need to be successful from the outset. 

Many younger students miss too many days of class and never develop what Smith called “a culture and habit” of regular attendance. Investments in early childhood education and literacy programs have long-term benefits for society as a whole, Smith said, and not just individual students.

One of the mantras of this blog is there should not be a one-size-fits- all approach to education and that there should be a variety of options to achieve the goal of a good basic education for all children. One of the themes that has run through education is the “bandwagon effect” which means that an idea or study result gains traction and that the idea or procedure is replicated and promoted as “the answer.”

Sarah D. Sparks reports about an OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) study in the Education Week article, OECD: Holding Back, Expelling Students Weakens Ed. Systems:

Countries in which schools frequently hold back or kick out students with low academic performance tend to have weaker, more expensive, and more socially inequitable education systems overall according to a new analysis by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

In comparing the results of the Program for International Student Assessment in 65 member and partner countries, OECD researchers found that differences among countries’ grade-retention trends could explain as much as 15 percent of the difference among their average scores on the 2009 PISA.

While fewer than 3 percent of students in 13 countries—including Japan, Norway, and the United Kingdom—reported ever repeating a grade, more than 25 percent of students repeated at least once in France, Spain, Brazil, and a dozen others studied. The United States reported more than one in 10 students repeating a grade, higher than the OECD average, while the top-performing countries, Finland and Korea, do not allow grade retention.

Researchers also found lower PISA scores for countries in which more schools reported they would transfer a student out of the school for low grades, special needs, or behavior problems. Ten of the countries studied reported about two of every five students attended a school “very likely” to transfer based on academics, while another 10 reported fewer than 3 percent of students attend schools that transfer for those reasons.

The OECD found that both high rates of grade retention and transfer happened in countries in which a child’s socioeconomic status was more likely to predict that child’s academic performance.

“This suggests that transferring students tends to be associated with socioeconomic segregation in school systems, where students from advantaged backgrounds end up in better-performing schools while students from disadvantaged backgrounds end up in poorer performing schools,” the report noted.

The OECD analysis comes as a number of states are debating whether and when to hold back a student who has not met grade-level proficiency standards. Chicago and North Carolina recently ended bans on social promotion, while Arizona and Florida have required schools to retain students who cannot meet 3rd grade reading benchmarks.

The goal of parents, teachers, students, and society should be that all children succeed in obtaining a good basic education. In order to achieve this goal, children must come to school ready to learn.

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©

One Response to “Is holding kids back a grade the answer to some learning problems?”


  1. Brookings research paper: Retaining students in early grades « drwilda - August 20, 2012

    […] One of the mantras of this blog is there should not be a one-size-fits- all approach to education and that there should be a variety of options to achieve the goal of a good basic education for all children. One of the themes that has run through education is the “bandwagon effect” which means that an idea or study result gains traction and that the idea or procedure is replicated and promoted as “the answer.”… […]

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