Retention: Everything You Need to Know

It refers to the practice of retaining students who haven’t really grasped the concepts presented in their current grade level for an extra year. The main focus of this practice is to help these students understand the academic material, which they were unable to grasp during the regular year without also considering the mental implications of keeping a child in the same class. Nonetheless, the intended benefit of this practice is that such students have now been given more time to grasp the previously taught materials and should be better off for it.

Yet, several studies have found that retaining students doesn’t lead to academic success. Instead, it actually contributes to higher dropout rates, greater academic failure, and greater behavioral difficulties. Students who are held back are found to do worse in the long run than their promoted counterparts. This is perhaps because the retained students don’t get better or more appropriate teaching and give up on themselves as learners. Though some studies found gains in student achievement the first year after they were retained, such gains were noticed to be minor and diminished within three years.

Some may wonder what the problem is with retention. The problem is that the premise of this method often considers the problem residing in the students rather than in the schooling they have encountered. As a result, classroom or school practices aren’t evaluated or looked at carefully to find why students aren’t achieving their educational goals. Instead, the responsibility is put on the students, who are retained and made to repeat the same experience. However, little is done to make sure that the experience will be either of higher quality or more appropriate for the individual needs of the students. This is especially troubling as there’s growing evidence that indicates students’ unequal access to high-quality teaching and curriculum is strongly related to their achievement.

Some studies have also indicated that teacher expertise is by far the single most important determinant of student performance. Perhaps this explains why retained students from minority, low-income and special-needs categories show the most problems. These students are least likely to get well-qualified, highly effective teachers. This is due to the tracking systems that typically assign the least-qualified teachers to the lowest-achieving students year after year. As a result, the goal of retention is defeated.

Just like social promotion, retention too has been found to be ineffective in preventing the failure cycle that results in poor academic performance.

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