The often controversial practice of holding struggling students back a grade appears to be losing favor, according to a national study of retention rates.
Overall retention rates for grades 1 through 9 declined by almost half from 2.9 percent in 2004-05 to 1.5 percent in 2009-10, according to “Patterns and Trends in Grade Retention in the United States, 1995-2010,” a report released Thursday by the American Educational Research Association (AERA). AERA is a national organization based in Washington, D.C., that conducts research on education. The researchers tracked nationwide retention trends from 1995 through 2010.
Although the retention rates dropped for all groups of students, there were still differences among student subgroups that persisted. Students in 1st and 9th grades were the most likely to be held back. Across all grades, retention rates remained higher among African-American and Latino students, children of less educated or single parents, urban children, immigrants, and children in Southern and Northeastern states, the researchers found. African-American students in grades 2 through 9 were about twice as likely as white students to be retained.
Although boys are still held back more often than girls, the difference between the two narrowed substantially between 2004-05 and 2009-10, with the 2009-10 retention rate 1.6 percent for boys and 1.5 percent for girls.
The authors did not examine why the rates are falling, but offered a possible explanation. “Optimistically it could be the result of earlier research that found only mixed evidence that retention leads to more learning, but consistent evidence that it leads to higher dropout rates,” said co-author John Robert Warren.
The researchers relied on data from the Current Population Survey by the U.S. Census.