Whether it makes sense to hold struggling students back a year, in hopes that they’ll do better the second time around, is a hotly debated and contentious education issue. No one likes the idea of being “held back.” But if extra tutoring or time in summer school isn’t enough to improve academic performance, retention might be an option worth serious consideration. Critics of retention cite the extra burden it puts on taxpayers who will have to pay for an extra year of public education for students that are kept back. They also question whether the benefits – if there are any – are long-term. Proponents argue that it’s unfair to push unprepared students forward and that allowing them more time to improve their skills can have a positive and lasting impact. Now, a new study from the Public Policy Institute of California indicates that kids who repeat first or second grade, can make significant improvements in their academic skills. The study of early elementary school retention was done in the Los Angeles Unified School District. LAUSD serves 11% of public school students in the state and is quite diverse, so the study’s results might have broader implications for other school districts, particularly those in urban areas. Who decides which students are retained? Does it help failing students reach proficiency? Do the costs outweigh the benefits or is it the other way around?
Jill Cannon, Research Fellow, Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC); lead author of PPIC study “Early Grade Retention and Student Success: Evidence from Los Angeles”