Study: Retention rates dropping dramatically

The rates of retention, or “holding back” students, has dropped drastically since 1995, according to a new study from the American Educational Research Association. From 1995 to 2005, grade retention was at 3 percent but has dropped to just 1.5 percent between 2005 and 2010. Though the study reveals numbers it does not present a definitive answer as to “why” these retention numbers are dropping, and so significantly.

What makes the numbers even more interesting is the fact that since the early 1990s, the idea of “social promotion” (or allowing kids to go to the next grade even if they were not up to par academically) has been shunned among educators. As a result, retention should be going up, not down — but there are some realities that come into play that may not be evident in the cut-and-dry data of this report.

For one thing, school districts that may have started to hold back more students in the early 1990s, for example, may have soon seen how expensive that tactic actually was and may have unofficially reversed those policies. Perhaps that’s a cynical look but as someone who has taught in a public school system with many at-risk students, I can see it happening.

There could also be a more positive reason why these numbers are dropping and it could relate to earlier detection of academic issues — and earlier confrontation of those problems. Instead of waiting until the end of the year to have a child repeat a grade, schools are targeting students during the year with customized learning plans and programs to meet their weaknesses in the moment.

The drop in retention rates is likely a combination of both things and likely a few others thrown in there. It will be interesting to see how these retention numbers fare in the coming years as Common Core and PARCC testing is implemented throughout the country.

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