The Effects of School Retention on Children


The end of the school year can be an exciting time for most children. May brings the end of one year and the promise of a next. For some students, however, they know they will be repeating a grade and the end of the school year is a reminder that they failed their current class. Parents and teachers must weigh both positive and negative effects of retention before holding a child back a grade in school.

Purpose of Retention

  • When children have not mastered the standards for a particular grade, their teachers may recommend retention so the children can fully master the material. School is foundational, with each year adding to a base for the next year's academic demands. The goal is to prepare struggling students so they can have future success in academics. Students are also retained for immaturity. If a student is unable to emotionally, physical or socially relate to other children they may be retained. Many schools routinely retain children transitioning from kindergarten to first grade if they are unable to read.

Academic Effects

  • The academic effects should be intuitive: a child retained should have a definite advantage when repeating that grade. Some experts in child development claim only minimal academic benefits to retention have been noticed, however. Children who repeat kindergarten to reinforce reading skills show only slight academic gains that level off within a few years. Retained middle school students show no academic benefits when compared to similar non-retained students. High school students facing retention also show little to no academic gain and are at an increased risk to drop out of school entirely.

Psychological Effects

  • The retained child's age has a large impact on the psychological effects of school retention. Children in preschool through third grade exhibit little signs of psychological distress at being retained. They have less experience with the negative connotations of retention and may not have established social ties. Beyond early childhood, school retention can have devastating psychological effects. Behavioral problems are common in retained students. Children in upper elementary and junior high school are often labeled "flunky" or "stupid." Those labels and the knowledge of their own failure create diminished self-esteem. Adolescents can experience profound depression.

Social Effects

  • Retained students tend to have lower social skill levels than their peers. They have less self-confidence in their peer interactions and exhibit lower levels of social competency. Children often suffer from severed friendships and relationships when their peers move ahead and leave them behind. They experience social shame and embarrassment when friends and peers learn they are repeating a grade.

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