1 minute read


Retention, sometimes called flunking, is the practice of having a child repeat a grade in school to help the child acquire the academic and social skills needed for success in later grades. Most research, however, has found that simply repeating the same grade is not very effective. Although children who are retained often perform better during their second year in the same grade, their gains usually shrink or disappear in subsequent years. Moreover, children who are retained are more likely to develop a bad attitude toward school and are more likely to drop out of school than nonretained children with similar levels of poor achievement.

Since the mid-1990s, public policies against social promotion (i.e., advancing children to the next grade despite poor achievement, to keep them with children of the same age) have spurred the development of programs to help struggling children avoid retention. The same programs, such as extra tutoring, summer school, and increased use of classroom aides, could also help retained children gain more from their experience.


Karweit, Nancy L. "Grade Retention: Prevalence, Timing, and Effects." In the Johns Hopkins University CRESPAR [web site]. Baltimore, Maryland, 1998. Available from http://www.csos.jhu.edu/crespar/reports/report33chapt1.htm; INTERNET.

Riley, Richard W., Marshall S. Smith, and Terry K. Peterson. "Taking Responsibility for Ending Social Promotion: A Guide for Educators and State and Local Leaders." In the U.S. Department of Education [web site]. Washington, DC, 1999. Available from http://www.ed.gov/pubs/socialpromotion/title.html; INTERNET.

Shepard, Lorrie A., and Mary L. Smith. Flunking Grades: Research and Policies on Retention. London: Falmer Press, 1989.

Pamela P. Hufnagel

Additional topics

Social Issues ReferenceChild Development Reference - Vol 7