Retention is NOT an Intervention

Repeat after me: Retention is not an intervention. Retention is not an intervention. Retention is NOT an intervention!

Although this discussion could easily fit within the research-based intervention discussion, this is important enough to warrant its own entry. It is imperative that all school faculty and administrators understand that retention is not an intervention! If it did not work the first time, there is no need to provide more of it. Retention is not an evidence-based approach. In fact, the research is clear on this one: retention yields negative outcomes for students (e.g., Hughes, Kwok, & Im, 2013). It is a different story if a child is on the edge with an October birthday and you’re deciding when to start kindergarten. Or if a child missed a significant portion of the year because of immigration, illness, or the like.

Although it may seem logical that a student who is behind in first or second grade would be able to “catch up” through repeating the grade, this student didn’t miss all of the outcomes of the current grade. The sensible approach is to identify the skills the student is missing and provide research-based intervention. Without doing so, retention will temporarily seem to be working (Gleason et al., 2007), but because the reason the student was behind was not addressed, the student will fall behind again. Furthermore, damage to the student’s self esteem is likely. And just like a teacher’s expectations for a student’s outcomes predict success, a student’s own expectations for outcomes predict success (Hattie, 2012). We must protect a student’s belief in success.

I have a bit of personal experience with this that fuels my passion. My child was unable to read in first grade–at all. He matriculated to second and third and was finally on grade level with reading (but not writing) in 5th grade after intensive, evidence-based intervention. Now he is a senior in AP courses with scholarships to every school where he applied. (Hmmm… Will it be University of Vermont or College of Idaho?) YAY, Spencer! And hooray for evidence-based interventions that work even for students who have severe dyslexia. EVERY child who does not have intellectual disability can be on grade level. And students with intellectual disabilities can achieve so much more than we often expect.

Read more here about problems with tracking or “ability grouping,” a practice that is retention in disguise.

References Gleason, K. A., Kwok, O. M., & Hughes, J. N. (2007). The short-term effect of grade retention on peer relations and academic performance of at-risk first graders. The Elementary School Journal, 107(4), 327-340.

Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for te

achers: Maximizing impact on learning. Routledge.

Hughes, J. N., Kwok, O. M., & Im, M. H. (2013). Effect of retention in first grade on parents’ educational expectations and children’s academic outcomes. American educational research journal, 0002831213490784

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