Tag Archives: reading

Is Learning to Read Natural?

I need to offer as few clarifications since my recent post on how the teaching of reading has been historically corrupted by the influence of reading programs. The motivation of the clarification comes from a comment posted by KenS.*

First, my literacy teaching for the past thirty years does rest on a controversial concept—that grammatical knowledge is essentially biological (see Pinker and Chomsky). This I believe is important as it helps keep literacy instruction from being reduced to seeing language as something acquired.

Next, and to KenS’s questions, speaking and listening are inherent to being human, but reading and writing are artificial, thus acquiring reading and writing are not natural.

However, my point in the earlier post, which certainly wasn’t clear or fully explored, is that Dewey’s claim about not needing to teach reading is grounded in that when children have privileged environments, notably ones that are language and text rich, the acquisition of reading can appear to be natural.

Our goals, then, should be to insure all children have privileged homes that are conducive to language acquisition and that schools provide parallel environments that foster and reinforce  literacy acquisition.

One additional caveat is all of the above is addressing decoding and comprehension (“reading” is a complex term). But I never see decoding and comprehension as going far enough in formal education.

Direct instruction and careful fostering of critical literacy must be provided to all students, and the acquisition of critical literacy, I believe, is certainly not acquired naturally since it requires that we confront and challenge all of the conditions that constitute “natural” for each person.

I hope this is more clear and addresses the great comment from KenS.

* See the comment from Kens at my original post and below:

First, Dr. Thomas, thanks, as always, for making me aware of historical perspectives I was not previously aware of. Your writing always provides much food for thought.

I am not certain of your point with this post, however, and because understanding how young people learn to read (or don’t) has become so important to me, I hope you will clarify for me.

Mea culpa: Despite the fact that I am in my 17th year of teaching middle school English, I have come to see myself as a teacher of reading only gradually. Earlier in my career I saw it as my job to teach literature and academic writing. It took me far longer than it should have, but I finally began to wonder why students reached middle school with such widely varying aptitudes for understanding what they read.

My question pertains to your statement that your “perspective on reading isn’t all that different from Dewey’s” belief that “reading just happened.” How close, then is your perspective to Dewey’s position?

Dewey’s stance contradicts what I’ve come to believe – although there seems to be much disagreement about reading instruction, even among experts, so I am keeping an open mind.

OK, I’ll try to be brief: Pinker, in The Language Instinct, convinced my that young children are wired to learn oral language without formal instruction. Hart and Risley, in Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experiences of Young American Children, convinced me that the extensive differences in the quantity and quality of verbal experiences among children had an enormous impact on children’s readiness to learn once they started school. Lakoff and Johnson, in Metaphors We Live By, led me to believe that the advantages affluent children had in verbal practice led not only to a larger vocabulary, but a conceptual system far more prepared to make sense of the abstract content they encountered in school.

But here is where I disagree with Dewey; here is where I think he just didn’t understand that a reason he didn’t remember being taught to read is that his young mind didn’t have the conceptual framework yet to be metacognitive about what he was undergoing in his childhood.

Dr. Diane McGuinness, in several books, has argued that children don’t naturally learn to read any more than they naturally learn to work on car engines. Yes, some people have more aptitude for learning how car engines work, just as some people learn to read faster. But, still, having some guidance from someone more experienced seems a “natural” part of our development as humans.

McGuinness points out that writing systems are a human invention and the English alphabetic system is particularly complicated. To fully understand it, children must be taught to decode written words and encode into writing the sounds we produce as words. She also points out that the brain is an incredible pattern-spotting machine, and children will learn, even when teaching methods are not particularly efficient.

Now, to be clear, it seems to me there are essentially two stages (that must overlap) to learning to read – learning to decode and encode the code that is our alphabet, and learning to read for meaning. Perhaps I misunderstood your position, and you were referring to learning to read for meaning. To some extent, I think that can occur more “naturally,” as our brains are also meaning-seeking.

Finally, all this has led me to believe most definitely that discrepencies in wealth and power and priviledge are responsible for the much of the discrepencies we see in children’s academic achievment. In that regard, I agree with you 100%.


Common Core in the Real World: Destroying Literacy through Standardization (Again)

I have a brief comedy routine I use with my students, typically early in each course I teach—in part to introduce them to me, and in part to make a point about literacy.* The joke goes like this:

“When I graduated high school,” I say, ” I had 7,000 comic books,” slight pause, “and no girl friend.”

The students typically laugh, and then I deadpan, “That’s not funny. That’s sad.”

When they suddenly stop laughing, I smile widely, and we all laugh together.**

I began collecting comic books—primarily to draw from them—in the summer before my ninth grade, the summer I learned I had scoliosis and would have to wear a huge back brace throughout my high school years (23 hours a day at first and throughout school hours into my junior year of high school). That situation provided me with yet another joke for my students; when I tell that part of my life story, I say that I called my back brace “the chick magnet.” More laughter.

By my sophomore year of high school, I was collecting, drawing from, and reading dozens of comics each month. I also had begun reading science fiction (SF) voraciously. I can still recall Lucifer’s HammerRendezvous with Rama and Childhood’s End vividly—not the contents of the books so much as the reading was hard and that I felt accomplished by making my way through each one.

Lynn Harrill was my driver’s education teacher the summer before my tenth grade, and then my English teacher in both my sophomore and junior years. Lynn would prove to be the most important man and mentor in my life after my father, but during tenth grade, he told me that I needed to stop reading SF and start reading “real literature.”

And I did (well, I starting reading real literature, but didn’t stop reading SF). In the next several years, I had read everything by D.H. Lawrence (to whom Lynn introduced me), F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Thomas Wolfe, and many other literary authors.

I owe a great deal to Lynn, despite his being wrong about his proclamation marginalizing SF (and indirectly my comics) and honoring literary fiction. But another moment in my sophomore year of English deserves mentioning.

A required book in my tenth grade was A Tale of Two Cities. The summative assessment on the novel was a multiple-choice test—on which I scored a 96, the highest grade in the class. Most of the students in the class—which was the highest track—made much lower, and they all were mad at me from ruining any chance at the grades being curved.

But that isn’t the important aspect of this story—what is?

I never read the novel.

I scored a 96 by reading the Cliff’s Notes and taking careful notes in class.

Common Core in the Real World: Destroying Literacy through Standardization (Again)

An essay in the Educational Research Bulletin addressing reading requirements in high school opens with the following:

Within the last few years heated discussion has centered around the question of free reading for high-school students in English classes. Critics have insisted that interest as a basis for book selection merely tends to establish poor taste; they have stressed the importance of organization in reading as in any program; they have assumed that free reading, with its emphasis upon pupil-direction, lacks content. Indeed, the arguments in slightly more abstract form are those frequently advanced against any program in whose construction pupils participate, and have been offered as criticism of the whole progressive-school movement. (p. 29)

While this could easily be a description of the debates surrounding Common Core, this is by Lou LaBrant, written in 1937.

LaBrant presents a careful study of the positive consequences of free reading in the context of the traditional view that students must be assigned reading and that students must also read primarily (if not only) from the Great Books. She concludes from the study:

The theory that in a free or extensive reading program designed to utilize interest and to serve individual needs there will be fruitless reading of light fiction gains no evidence from this study. The report does, however, point to the possibility that the adolescent has much greater power to read and to think intelligently about reading than the results of our conventional program have led us to believe. (p. 34)

In the seventy-plus years since LaBrant’s piece, as literacy scholars such as Stephen Krashen have argued and detailed in their research, student literacy has been shown to spring from choice reading and access to books (in the home and libraries)—not from prescribed reading lists, not from revised standards, and certainly not from testing reading.

Advocates for Common Core insist that CC is not prescriptive and that CC is not the tests to come from these new standards.

Those advocates are simply ignoring the real world and the history of standards-bases education in the U.S.; they are, in fact, confusing the use of “to be” verbs with “should.” It may very well be that CC should not be prescriptive and should not be reduced to the tests. But should does not dictate what most surely is and will be.

Last week, for example, a former student of mine who is now a high school English teacher texted me distraught. Her English department is aggressively pursuing a new policy to end the use of young adult (YA) literature in the high school courses at her school. Why?

The department leaders have argued that CC requires literature that is “rigorous.”

Despite having abundant evidence on her side (including research and that students do read voraciously YA literature), she has been told to stop her resistance.

Another former student of mine who teachers high school English also faced harsh evaluations during her first year of teaching because she designed and implemented a wonderful unit around The Hunger Games. Despite the huge popularity of the unit among her students (and among student not in her class who were drawn into the books because of word of mouth), the leaders of her department also reprimanded her for depending on lesser literature—arguing that her students needed higher quality reading (required Great Books, again).

In the real world, CC and the tests that are to follow have and will once again reinforce the exact practices that have harmed literacy among students for a century; teachers will be emboldened to assign Great Books (and marginalize further everything else) and teachers will be compelled to teach to the test.

In the real world, as Gerald Bracey has explained, what is tested is what is taught—especially when standards and testing are part of high-stakes accountability. CC may in fact raise (eventually) some reading test scores, but I guarantee it will only harm the teaching of literacy and the literacy of students.

I have slipped past the age of 50. I have read thousands of books and written several myself.

My greatest literacy joys remain authors I was never assigned, but discovered for myself—Milan Kundera, Kurt Vonnegut, Margaret Atwood, Haruki Murakami, Neil Gaiman.

My literary life can be traced back to my mother and the wealth of children’s books that populated my childhood home and then my deeply self-conscious nerd self as a teen sitting in my comic book room surrounded by comic books and stacks of Arthur C. Clarke novels.

I graduated high school with mostly As in math and science, intending to be physics major, because school had profoundly misled me about the joy and wonder of words.

In college, on my own, I learned otherwise.

There is no justification for CC and the tests that have and will follow if we genuinely seek to offer children the rich and valuable literacy that every child deserves. Denying students choice is ignoring what we know about literacy development as well as the essence of basic human agency.

Common Core in the real world is once again destroying literacy through standardization.

* This blog was inspired by Christopher Lehman @iChrisLehman.

** My newer joke springs from The Big Bang Theory; at some point I tell students I watch and enjoy the show, and then pause before saying quite seriously I don’t understand, however, why people think it’s funny. Then I smile widely.

Just Say No to Just Read, Florida, South Carolina

“Nearly 3,000 of South Carolina’s third-graders who struggle with reading could be held back if the state adopts a plan that would require students to read at or near grade level,” Jamie Self reports in The State (“Education leaders: Florida holds key to SC literacy fix,” March 31, 2013), adding later,

Under Peeler’s bill, 2,886 SC third-graders scored low enough on a 2012 reading test to be held back a year — more than four times the 584 third-graders held back in 2012. The number reflects only the lowest-scoring readers, about 27 percent of the more than 10,500 third-graders who scored as not reading on grade level….

SC schools chief Mick Zais supports the plan to hold back struggling third-graders and would like to see a similar track for seventh graders, his spokesman Jay Ragley said.

SC Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, has introduced the bill modeled on Just Read, Florida, part of a grade-retention policy widely promoted by Jeb Bush as one aspect of the larger so-called “Florida Miracle.”

SC political leadership must not follow Florida’s lead in reading policy or grade retention policy for several reasons, including the following: the “Florida Miracle” has been thoroughly discredited, grade retention has no support in the research that shows retention has no positive outcomes but many negative consequences for children and tax payers, and initiatives such as Just Read, Florida ignore and replace credible literacy policy desperately needed in high-poverty states such as SC.

First, SC political leadership and the public must acknowledge what low reading test scores represent and the negative consequences of basing policy on test data:

  • All standardized test scores, including reading scores, are overwhelmingly a reflection of home, community, and school inequities more so than direct and clear evidence of holistic reading ability by children. Low reading scores by third graders in SC are signals of a high-poverty state, first and foremost.
  • Reading test scores are often poor evidence of real-world and holistic reading ability. Standardized tests of reading are typically skills-based and/or complicated by other student skills imbedded in the test format (for example, having students write on a reading test blurs the evidence on reading and writing proficiencies).
  • High-stakes test-based decisions for grade retention, instructional programs, and instructional practices—especially in literacy—have a clear negative impact on the quality of instruction as well as the quality of learning opportunities children who need education the most are likely to receive:

In too many places, however, graduation and promotion tests are putting many students at sharply increased risk of suffering the serious, well-documented harm associated with grade retention and denial of high school diplomas. Those at greatest risk include the very populations—students of color, students with disabilities, English-language learners, and low-income students—whom standards-based reform could potentially help the most. (Heubert, 2002/2003)

Second, SC political leadership and the public must acknowledge that the “Florida Miracle”—like the “Texas Miracle,” the “Harlem Miracle,” and the “Chicago Miracle”—has been thoroughly discredited as incomplete data, misrepresented accomplishments, or outright failures.

A brief review of credible examinations of the “Florida formula” include strong cautions about both the claims of success and the use of Florida as a model of reform.

Matthew Di Carlo acknowledges mixed results, but cautions using the formula to drive policy:

That said, the available evidence on these policies, at least those for which some solid evidence exists, might be summarized as mixed but leaning toward modestly positive, with important (albeit common) caveats. A few of the reforms may have generated moderate but meaningful increases in test-based performance (with all the limitations that this implies) among the students and schools they affected. In a couple of other cases, there seems to have been little discernible impact on testing outcomes (and/or there is not yet sufficient basis to draw even highly tentative conclusions). It’s a good bet – or at least wishful thinking – that most of the evidence is still to come.

In the meantime, regardless of one’s opinion on whether the “Florida formula” is a success and/or should be exported to other states, the assertion that the reforms are responsible for the state’s increases in NAEP scores and FCAT proficiency rates during the late 1990s and 2000s not only violates basic principles of policy analysis, but it is also, at best, implausible. The reforms’ estimated effects, if any, tend to be quite small, and most of them are, by design, targeted at subgroups (e.g., the “lowest-performing” students and schools). Thus, even large impacts are no guarantee to show up at the aggregate statewide level (see the papers and reviews in the first footnote for more discussion)….

Whether we like it or not, real improvements at aggregate levels are almost always slow and incremental. There are no “miracles,” in Florida or anywhere else. The sooner we realize that, and start choosing and judging policies based on attainable expectations that accept the reality of the long haul, the better.

Julian Vasquez Heilig identifies the error of focusing on apparent increases in 3rd to 4th grade reading scores and associating them with policy:

Cloaking Inequity examined the purported test score miracle earlier here. In 4th grade, Florida improved over the last decade and was position in the top ten nationally, but as you move up the grade levels, the longer student stay in Florida schools, the worse their performance relative to the nation. I also discussed the official Florida scholarship evaluation in Florida that showed their scholarship (aka neovoucher) program had not increased the achievement of program participants.

Third, all evidence on grade retention reveals only negative consequences for children (academic and emotional) and tax payers, the public. [1]

Alfie Kohn notes that accountability “get tough” attitudes are masking the need for policy to be built on evidence:

The same get-tough sensibility that has loosed an avalanche of testing has led to a self-congratulatory war on “social promotion” that consists of forcing students to repeat a grade. The preponderance of evidence indicates that this is just about the worst course of action to take with struggling children in terms of both its academic and social-psychological effects. And the evidence uniformly demonstrates that retention increases the chance that a student will leave school; in fact, it’s an even stronger predictor of dropping out than is socioeconomic status.

Some of the well-documented effects of grade retention include the following:

Retained students are more likely to be male, younger than classmates, from a lower socio-economic class, black or Hispanic, a behavior problem and immature (Karweit, 1991).

Research shows a large correlation between dropouts and retention….

Controlled studies do not support the benefits claimed for extra-year programs (i.e., transitional first, pre-kindergarten) and negative side effects occur just as they do for retention in later grades….

Empirical research shows retention does not improve the achievement of children as measured by tests of basic skills. No significant positive long-term effect is evident. Studies indicate retention is either ineffective or harmful, with more negative than positive effects….

Retention imposes an economic burden of financing an extra year of schooling….

Children attach stigma, stress, and shame to retention.

Kevin Welner states directly and clearly that no policy decisions should include grade retention, specifically citing Florida’s policies:

Let’s use grade retention to illustrate. States across the U.S. are adopting mandates requiring that  third graders with low reading scores repeat the grade. The ‘leave the student back’ policy is being heavily marketed by the Foundation for Excellence in Education, an organization created by former Florida governor Jeb Bush. But retaining students is not a new idea. It’s an experiment that’s been tried on and off for generations, and it’s been studied for almost that long.

The overarching message from research in this area is that retaining a low-scoring third grader will not help her do better than a similar classmate with similar scores who is moved along to fourth grade, but she will be more likely to eventually drop out.

Viewed from a taxpayer perspective, retaining a student will likely have one of two outcomes:

1. She may drop out, meaning she will pay about $60,000 less in taxes over her lifetime, be more likely to commit crimes, and be more likely to depend on government assistance; or

2. She may complete high school, at a cost of an extra year of school – about $10,000. If retention had a substantial payoff, paying for an extra year of school would be worthwhile (although it nationally adds up to billions of dollars each year). But there’s no benefit. With grade retention, we are paying more and getting a worse outcome.

That’s the evidence. It’s what we have learned (or should have learned) from decades of  experience. Grade retention can be expected to have the same destructive results in 2012 as it did when it was tried ten or twenty or forty years ago – or any of the years in between. Yet our lawmakers do the same thing over and over again, each time expecting different results.

Allensworth (2005) found that retention based on test scores at the elementary level contributed to higher drop-out rates; this study is particularly important to evaluating the long-term impact of the Florida formula as well as any state considering implementing similar policies that focus on short-term test scores while ignoring long-term consequences.

Grade retention fails students retained, fails taxpayers, and as Gottfried (2013) has shown, fails the non-retained classmates of students retained:

This research has brought to the foreground a new dimension of the analysis relating to grade retention, as well as peer effects. In essence, by demonstrating a pervasive negative effect of retained classmates, as derived from multiple quasi-experimental methods on a panel data set of urban schoolchildren, this study corroborates the predominant conclusions of prior research on retention. Namely, this practice of grade retention is associated with negative outcomes (Allen et al. 2009; Holmes 1989; McCoy and Reynolds 1999; Meisels and Liaw 1993; Reynolds 1992; Roderick and Nagaoka 2005). The unique contribution of this study is that the negative outcomes of this schooling practice are not restricted to the retained students themselves; rather, this study has found that retention can affect the academic outcomes for other members of the classroom. Moreover, this study has also facilitated an opportunity for urban educational experiences to be further delineated and for policy implications of this practice to be more thoroughly discussed.

Finally, SC political leadership needs to address in authentic and effective ways the very real literacy challenges faced by our high-poverty students. Modeling SC educational policy on Florida, however, would achieve only what Kohn has identified as policy insuring more non-readers.

Credible reading policy in SC would include the following:

  • Create and implement social policy that addresses poverty and job creation/stability in the historically high-poverty areas of the state. Children living in high-poverty homes and communities are “doubly disadvantaged” in ways that cannot be overcome by schools alone and that are too often reflected in and perpetuated by community-based schools and failed educational policies such as Florida’s Just Read, Florida.
  • Reading and literacy achievement should be evaluated through holistic, classroom-based mechanisms, not high-stakes testing. Increasing high-stakes test scores in reading may have the unintended consequence of producing both misleading data and further eroding the literacy proficiency of high-poverty, minority, special needs, and ELL students. Test-based evaluations of students, teachers, schools, and policy tend to create conditions that ask less of everyone, not more.
  • Reading proficiency is of little value if students are non-readers due to punitive and skills-based school policy. Reading is a holistic and unpredictable human behavior that must be fostered over many years and through strategies that appear “too simple”—increase children’s access to books in their homes, increase children’s access to books in school, provide students extended opportunities to read by choice during the school day, address adult and community literacy
  • Reading proficiency and creating life-long, eager readers will never be achieved by reading policies or programs, particularly pre-packaged commercial programs. Teachers and parents can and should foster reading and all literacy, but ultimately children cannot be bribed, forced, or punished into being readers.

As Welner concludes in his consideration of education reform:

To be clear, “social promotion” – the movement of students from grade to grade with no meaningful intervention for those who fall behind – is also not supported by research evidence. Instead, as proven approaches to address the problem of early reading gaps, research supports high-quality early-childhood education, intensive early reading interventions, and smaller class sizes in early grades for at-risk students. These are all less costly and more effective than grade retention.

Evidence supports grade promotion combined with these sorts of interventions, and it clearly cautions against a systemic use of grade retention, even retention combined with additional academic support.

A reckless disregard of evidence is harmful. It leads to the waste of precious resources: our tax dollars and our children themselves. And grade retention is only one example of the larger problem.


“Florida Miracle” 

Review of Closing the Racial Achievement Gap, Madhabi Chatterji

Water into Wine?, Julian Vasquez Heilig

Lurking in the Bushes, Julian Vasquez Heilig

Parsing the Florida “Miracle,” Diane Ravitch

The Test-Based Evidence on the “Florida Formula,” Matthew Di Carlo

Editorial: Florida needs no advice from Jeb Bush on education policy, Jac Versteeg

Review of Getting Farther Ahead by Staying Behind, Derek C. Briggs

How Jeb Bush’s school reforms really played out in Florida, interview with Sherman Dorn

Grade Retention: U.S.

Third Grade Reading Policies, Rose (2012)

Education in Two Worlds: Follow Up to “50 Myths & Lies,” Gene V. Glass

A second myth we see as dangerous has that quality because of what it reveals about too many of America’s politicians and school leaders: it reveals both their ignorance and their cruelty! This is the myth that leaving a child back in grade who is not doing well academically is good for the child. It provides the child with “the gift of time” to catch up. We believe that only ignorant and cruel people would support such a policy, although it is law in about a dozen states, including Arizona and Florida. First of all, a large and quite consistent set of research studies, many of excellent quality, point out that for the vast majority of the children retention in grade has either no benefit, or is detrimental. Only rarely does retention benefit the child who was left back. So the research overwhelming suggests that those who recommend retention are likely to be ignorant. Second, an important piece of the rationale for retention policies is that if you cannot read well by third grade you are more likely to be a school failure. But reading expert Stephen Krashen disputes this, citing research on 12 young students with serious reading problems, dyslexics all. Eleven of the twelve did not learn to read well until they were between 10 and 12 years of age, and one did not learn to read until he was in 12th grade. Among these slow learners, all of whom would have been left back in Florida and Arizona, were nine who published creative scholarly works, and one who became a Nobel laureate. So not doing well by third grade does not determine one’s destiny. Third, the research informs us that retention policies are disproportionately directed at those who are poor, male, English language learners, and children of color. Middle class white children are rarely left back. Fourth, a retention decision changes family dynamics. Parents and siblings change in their treatment of, and aspirations for, the child identified by the school as having “flunked.” Of course, the schools do not say a child is dumb. Instead they offer the children and the families “the gift of time” to catch up. But the world interprets that gift more cruelly. Fifth, being left back is associated with much higher rates of dropping out before completion of high school. Thus, the social costs of this policy go way up since these children are more likely to need assistance in living because of poor wage earning capacity, and there is also the greater likelihood of a higher incarceration rate for people that do not finish school and cannot find decent work. Sixth, when surveyed, children left back say it feels as bad as losing a parent or going blind. It is an overwhelmingly negative event in the lives of the vast majority of the retained children, so leaving them back is cruel as well as a reflection of the ignorance of those who promote these policies. Seventh, and finally, the same costs expended for an extra year of education for the child who is held back, say eight thousand dollars, could more profitably be spent on a more beneficial treatment than repetition of a grade. A certified reading specialist, working twice a week as a tutor throughout the school year and for some part of the summer, would have greater success in improving a child’s academic performance. There is no more powerful treatment than tutoring, and in this case it is cheaper and more humane than is flunking a child. For the seven reasons given, we can think of no education policy that reflects worse on America’s politicians and educators than the policy of retaining students in grade.

Hold Back to Move Forward? Early Grade Retention and Student Misbehavior, Umut Özek

Test-based accountability has become the new norm in public education over the last decade. In many states and school districts nation-wide, student performance in standardized tests plays an important role in high-stakes decisions such as grade retention. This study examines the effects of grade retention on student misbehavior in Florida, which requires students with reading skills below grade level to be retained in the 3rd grade. The regression discontinuity estimates suggest that grade retention increases the likelihood of disciplinary incidents and suspensions in the years that follow. The findings also suggest that these adverse effects are concentrated among economically disadvantaged students

Retaining Students in Grade A Literature Review of the Effects of Retention on Students’ Academic and Nonacademic Outcomes, Nailing Xia, Sheila Nataraj Kirby (2009)

Our review of these 91 studies indicates that grade retention is associated with gender, race, SES, age for grade, student mobility, family and parental characteristics, prior academic achievement, prior behavioral and socioemotional development, and student health. Converging evidence suggests that grade retention alone is not an effective intervention strategy for improving academic and longer-term life outcomes. In general, retention does not appear to benefit students academically. Although some studies have found academic improvement in the immediate years after retention, these gains are usually short-lived and tend to fade over time. Past research has consistently shown that retained students are at significantly increased risk of dropping out of school. Although only a few studies have examined the effects of retention on postsecondary outcomes, the available evidence suggests negative effects on enrollment in postsecondary education and on employment outcomes in adulthood. Overall, the literature indicates mixed findings on attitudinal, socioemotional, and behavioral outcomes among the retained students….Our review found fruitful avenues of research, most notably the impact of supportive interventions (such as early identification of at-risk students, academic instructional services provided in and out of school, and different types of intervention strategies) on proximal and future student outcomes.

The Spillover Effects of Grade-Retained Classmates: Evidence from Urban Elementary Schools, Michael A. Gottfired, American Journal of Education 119 (May 2013)

Retention, Social Promotion, and Academic Redshirting: What Do We Know and Need to Know?, Nancy Frey, Remedial and Special Education, volume 26, number 6, November/December 2005, pages 332-346

The evidence gathered in the last 30 years on the practice of retention suggests that it is academically ineffective and is potentially detrimental to children’s social and emotional health. The seeds of failure may be sown early for students who are retained, as they are significantly more likely to drop out of high school. Furthermore, the trajectory of adverse outcomes appears to continue into young adulthood, when wages and postsecondary educational opportunities are depressed.

Dropout Rates after High-Stakes Testing in Elementary School: A Study of the Contradictory Effects of Chicago’s Efforts to End Social Promotion, Elaine M. Allensworth, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, Vol. 27, No. 4 (Winter, 2005), pp. 341-364

Alternative to Grade Retention, Jimerson, Pletcher, and Kerr (2005)

Given the accumulating evidence that grade retention is an ineffective and possibly harmful intervention, it is imperative that school administrators advocate for “promotion plus” policies that depend on effective, evidence-based interventions. The issue for secondary school educators is twofold. Not only must educators determine whether retention is appropriate for a given student, they also need to address the negative academic, social, and emotional consequences for students who were retained in earlier grades. Very often the student’s original difficulties persist, or more likely worsen, as their school career progresses.

Winning the Battle and Losing the War, Jimerson, Anderson, and Whipple (Psychology in the Schools, Vol. 39(4), 2002)

Considering the results of this review of research examining the association between grade retention and high school dropout and other reviews of research addressing the efficacy of grade retention (Holmes, 1989; Jimerson, 2001a, 2001b; Smith & Shepard, 1987, 1988), we must move beyond the use of grade retention as an intervention strategy and attempt to implement those strategies research has demonstrated to be effective (Jimerson, 2001a). Educational professionals, researchers, parents, and policymakers would be remiss to overlook the implications of research that demonstrate the association between grade retention and school dropout. Furthermore, a new imperative has emerged, where the onus is on programs training future educational professionals to disseminate the results of the recent research presented in this review. It is crucial that we transcend limited solutions and begin to consider student developmental and achievement trajectories in order to reinforce and strengthen pathways that promote social and cognitive competence and lead to academic success.

Does Retention (Repeating a Grade) Help Struggling Learners?

Some stakeholders in Florida believe that the “hard line in the sand” created by mandatory, test-based retention created a motivational difference in teachers and parents…, since it is thought that many of the same learning supports were being provided to struggling students prior to the policy. This may be the case for test score gains close to the retention year, but given the well-known longer-term negative effect of retention on drop-out rates (e.g., Allensworth, 2005) as well as the assured delayed entry into the workforce, Florida’s evidence falls far short of even suggesting that retention is the only or best way to motivate a real positive difference for struggling students, nor has it contradicted the overwhelming evidence against retention prior and since.

What Doesn’t Work, Smith and Shepard (Phi Delta Kappan, October 1987)

The Lesson of the Cupcakes: Fixing Schools by Resisting Gimmicks and Heeding Evidence, Kevin Welner

Exploring the Association Between Grade Retention and Dropout, Jimerson, et al. (The California School Psychologist, Vol. 7, pp. 51-62, 2002)

Ultimately, the research is unequivocal in identifying that grade retention does not appear to address the needs of these students at risk of academic failure. Findings from this study should not be misinterpreted as an indication that retention was an effective intervention strategy for the retained students who did not drop out of high school. There is a need for further research comparing the retained students who completed high school with matched comparison groups of similarly low achieving but socially promoted students. This study highlights the association of early socio-emotional and behavioral adjustment and high school dropout among a group of retained students. These findings have direct implications for school psychologists and other educational professionals. In particular, rather than focusing on the unsupported academic intervention of grade retention, it is time to implement prevention and intervention programs that have been empirically demonstrated to meet the needs of these students in facilitating both positive academic success and socio-emotional adjustment.

Grade Retention: A Flawed Education Strategy, Xia and Glennia (part 1)

Decades of research suggest that grade retention does not work as a panacea for poor student performance. The majority of research fails to find compelling evidence that retention improves long-term student achievement. An overwhelmingly large body of studies have consistently demonstrated negative academic effects of retention. Contrary to popular belief, researchers have almost unanimously found that early retention during kindergarten to grade three is harmful, both academically and emotionally. [2] Many studies find that retention does not necessarily lead to increased work effort among students as predicted.

Cost-Benefit Analysis of Grade Retention, Xia and Glennia (part 2)

Grade Retention: The Gap Between Research and Practice, Xia and Glennia (part 3)

The majority of published studies and decades of research indicate that there is usually little to be gained, and much harm that may be done through retaining students in grade. Yet, many educators continue to use retention as a way to improve student achievement and claim that it produces positive results. The consequence is while a growing body of studies show that retention does not improve academic performance and has a number of negative side effects, more and more states and school districts have adopted retention policy in an effort to enhance the educational accountability.

Synthesis of Research on Grade Retention, Shepard and Smith (Educational Leadership, May 1990)

Grade Retention [a synthesis]

Social Promotion – In Comparison to Grade Retention, Advantages and Disadvantages, Different Perspectives, Jere Brophy

Meta-analysis of Grade Retention Research: Implications for Practice in the 21st Century, Shane R. Jimerson (School Psychology Review, 2001, Volume 30, No. 3, pp. 420-437)

A Synthesis of Grade Retention Research: Looking Backward and Moving Forward, Shane R. Jimerson (The California School Psychologist, Vol. 6, pp. 47-59, 2001)

In looking backwards at the retention research and previous reviews and meta-analyses, a consistent theme emerges—grade retention is not an empirically supported intervention. As reflected in the results of the three meta-analyses described above, the confluence of results from research during the past century fails to demonstrate achievement, socioemotional, or behavioral advantages of retaining students. Moreover, the research consistently demonstrates that students who are retained are more likely to drop out of high school.

Evaluating Kindergarten Retention Policy, Hong and Raudenbush (September 2006)

First, Do No Harm, Jay P. Heubert (Educational Leadership, December 2002/January 2003)

The Facts on Education: Should Students Be Allowed to Fail Grades?

Holding Kids Back Doesn’t Help Them, Deborah Stipek and Michael Lombardo

Grade Retention and Social Promotion, National Association of School Psychologists

For children experiencing academic, emotional, or behavioral difficulties, neither repeating the same instruction another year nor promoting the student to the next grade is an effective remedy. (p. 5)

Grade Retention: International

Early Academic Performance, Grade Repetition, and School Attainment in Senegal: A Panel Data Analysis (Senegal)

Grade retention and educational attainment (Belgium)

Grade retention and its association with school misconduct in adolescence (Flemish)

This study represents one of the few to investigate the effect of grade retention on students’ school-disruptive behavior in adolescence. It is unique in addressing multilevel issues in this line of research. First, it has shown that it is important to distinguish grade retention at different educational levels. While we find evidence that primary school retention may be associated with less misconduct in adolescence, we establish that secondary school retention may give rise to deviance in adolescence. Moreover, we address the important role of schools’ retention composition, finding that students attending schools with more retainees are more likely to be deviant, although this composition does moderate negative retention effects. Together with previous literature on the effectiveness of grade retention, we advocate the abandonment of this intervention, especially at the secondary level.

See Demanet and Van Houtte’s cites:

In many countries, the practice of grade retention is widespread (Switzerland: Bonvin, Bless, & Schuepbach, 2008; Germany:  Ehmke, Drechsel, & Carstensen, 2010; US:  Jimerson, 2001; Lorence & Dworkin, 2006; Canada:  Pagani, Tremblay, Vitaro, Boulerice, & McDuff, 2001; Belgium:  Juchtmans et al., 2011; Van Petegem & Schuermans, 2005). Proponents believe that giving students ‘‘the gift of time’’ will put them back on track for normal educational growth. Ensuing the popularity of this strategy, a rich body of research has developed to test its effectiveness. The practice has some positive effects on students’ cognitive growth (Alexander, Entwisle, & Dauber, 1994), but these remain mainly short term (Jimerson & Ferguson, 2007; Meisels & Liaw, 1993) and occur only when special help is provided to retained children. In fact, in recent decades many studies have condemned grade retention as an ineffective practice to improve student learning (see, e.g., Bonvin et al., 2008; Jimerson, 2001; McCoy & Reynolds, 1999; Pagani et al., 2001).

Relation of Academic History and Demographic Variables to Grade Retention in Lebanon

[1] See Krashen, S. (2013, May). Need Children Read ‘Proficiently’ by Grade Three? Language Magazine.

[2] Deborah A. Byrnes, and Kaoru Yamamoto, 1985, “Academic Retention of Elementary Pupils: An Inside Look,” Education, 106(2), 208-14; Peg Dawson, 1998, “A Primer on Student Grade Retention: What the Research Says,” NASP Communique, 26(8); Shane R. Jimerson et al., 1997, “A Prospective, Longitudinal Study of the Correlates and Consequences of Early Grade Retention,” Journal of School Psychology, 35(1), 3-25; Panayota Y. Mantzicopoulos, 1997, “Do Certain Groups of Children Profit from Early Retention? A Follow-Up Study of Kindergartners with Attention Problems,” Psychology in the Schools, 34(2), 115-27; Samuel J. Meisels and Fong-Ruey Liaw, 1993, “Failure in Grade: Do Retained Students Catch Up?” Journal of Educational Research, 87(2), 69-77; Judy Temple, Arthur Reynolds and Suh-Ruu Ou, 2001, “Grade Retention and School Dropout: Another Look at the Evidence,” The CEIC Review, 10(5), 5-6 & 21; Charles L. Thompson and Elizabeth K. Cunningham, 2000, “Retention and Social Promotion: Research and Implications for Policy,” Eric Clearinghouse on Urban Education Digest, 161, 1-5; Deneen M. Walters and Sherry B. Borgers, 1995, “Student Retention: Is It Effective?” School Counselor, 42(4).