Here at Applied Behavioral Strategies, our mission is to improve the quality of life through effective intervention. One way we hope to do that is by reviewing research articles for our readers. Today’s article is titled, “Meta-analysis of Grade Retention Research:Implications for Practice in the 21st Century”. Shane Jimerson authored the article and School Psychology Review published it in 2001 (Volume 30, No. 3 pages 420-437). You may read the entire article yourself here.
Purpose of the Study
Researchers have been studying grade retention for many years. However, recently, the quality of studies has improved (e.g., more rigorous experimental designs, comparison groups). So, the purpose of the study was to review all the studies on grade retention between 1990 and 1999. The author completed a meta-analysis of the studies to better inform educators and parents about the effects of grade retention.
The author asked a number of research questions including:
(a) In what grade were the students retained and at what age/grade were the outcomes examined?
(b) What were the academic achievement outcomes of retained children versus promoted children?
(c) What were the social-emotional and behavioral outcomes of retained students versus promoted children?
Methodology (How the Study was Completed)
The author searched for research studies on the effects and outcomes of grade retention. Over 400 studies were found. The author identified studies that met the following inclusionary criteria:
(a) research must have been presented in a professional publication;
(b) study results must have addressed the efficacy of grade retention (i.e., achievement, social-emotional, or other);
(c) study must have included a comparison group of promoted students;
(d) research must have been published between 1990 and 1999
Twenty studies met the criteria and were analyzed for the meta-analysis.
The author and two research assistants coded the studies. Meta analyses were completed using the effect sizes reported by study authors. For our readers with little experience and training in research, this means that the author and research assistants read the previously published studies and entered information into a spreadsheet. They also took the results from the previous studies and combined them with all the other study results to get an average outcome across studies.
The retained students and the promoted students were matched on several variables including academic achievement, IQ, gender, SES, and social-emotional adjustment). Essentially, all the studies made sure that both groups were equal except for one variable: retention or promotion.
Grade of Retention and Grade of Outcome
The majority of the studies (N=14 out of 20) included students that were retained in kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, or 3rd grade. The remaining six studies included students retained K through 8th grade. Many studies (14 out of 20) reported outcomes over a series of years. Only 6 studies reported outcomes in just one year.
All of the data from the 20 studies resulted in 175 different academic outcomes for students. Of those 175 outcomes, only 9 favored retained students while 82 outcomes favored promoted students. 84 outcomes showed no difference between retained and promoted students.
More specifically, the promoted group of students performed higher than retained students in areas of language arts, reading, math, composite scores, and grade point average.
All of the data from the 16 studies that examined social-emotional adjustment resulted in 148 outcomes. Of those, 8 favored the retained students and 13 favored the promoted students. 127 of those showed no differences between groups.
The authors of the 20 studies favored either retention or promotion and these results were analyzed. Authors from 4 studies recommended grade retention while authors from 16 studies recommended against grade retention.
Authors from the 4 studies recommending retention emphasized that remedial strategies in addition to grade retention is necessary. Grade retention alone is not enough.
The author of the meta analysis concludes with a few recommendations for educators and school psychologists.
- First, he stressed the importance of utilizing remedial strategies to support children who are struggling.
- Second, he encouraged educators and educational researchers to study the long-term effects of grade retention, particularly in light of other research linking grade retention to higher rates of high school drop out.
- Third, he encouraged school psychologists to explore educational alternatives and to disseminate research to parents and teachers to that teams make informed decisions regarding grade retention.
- Finally, he recommended that educators consider using interventions that have been proven effective through special education research. These include: mnemonic strategies, enhancing reading comprehension, behavior modification, direct instruction, cognitive behavior modification, formative evaluation, and early intervention.
What are things that you considered when deciding to retain or promote your child? Teachers, behavior analysts, what variables did you consider? What interventions did you try first?