Retention is a controversial topic among educators and administrators, in part due to the research about students who are retained. Students can be retained because they failed to progress, because they did not pass standardized tests that decide whether a student can be promoted, or because of "immaturity" -- slow to progress in behavioral benchmarks.
Retention is the repetition of a grade in school. Usually, retention refers to grade repetition only in elementary and middle schools; in high school a student earns credits in order to progress to the next grade. In the United States, students are most likely to be retained in kindergarten and first grade, with sixth grade as the second-highest retention grade, according to ERIC Digests. It is far less common to retain a student in middle school than in elementary school.
Many students in the lower elementary grades exhibit what many educational professionals call "social immaturity." Children who are socially immature, according to Attitude Mag, are lagging behind their peers on verbalizing skills, and they may not understand other people's wants and needs. They may interrupt conversations with adults and other students, and may not have the capacity to work well and share in groups. Their reactions to situations in the classroom may be inappropriate. For these reasons, socially immature students may not be able to learn as much as their peers in the classroom. Although many educators may be quick to label socially immature students as having ADHD, Parenting Magazine points out that a socially immature student's behavior will gradually improve over the course of a school year -- while the behavior of an ADHD child will stay the same or deteriorate.
Emotionally immature students have several characteristics, according to Psychology Today: they refuse to take responsibility for their actions, tend to blow up or lose control of their emotions if things do not go their way, lack self-motivation and have difficulty with students in their own peer group -- a lack of empathy in social relations, and difficulty with interpersonal relationships. They also are unable to manage a conflict or resolve a problem successfully. For these children, small steps towards independence and emotional maturity seem best, Psychology Today says.
What the Research Shows
There is a lot of research on retention, and nearly all of it echoes the National Association of School Psychologists. The NASP stated that, while retention may have some initial benefit for the child, the achievement gains decline by the third year after retention. Also, students who are retained are far less likely to graduate from high school. There are alternatives to retention. With social immaturity, the main healer, so to speak, is time. Immaturity is a developmental issue -- the child needs time to mature, according to the Hincks-Dellcrest Centre. Emotionally immature students may benefit from behavior charts and incentives, as well as modeling of acceptable behavior.
- ERIC Digests: Grade Retention and Promotion: Karen Steiner
- Attitude Mag: Helping Socially Immature Kids Make Friends and Succeed in School
- Parenting Magazine: ADHD or Immaturity?
- Psychology Today: Parents Stay Aware: Defiant Children Lack Emotional Maturity!
- Psychology Today: Three Easy Ways to Raise Your Child's Emotional Intelligence
- National Association of School Psychologists: Grade Retention and Promotion
Lori Garrett-Hatfield has a B.J. in Journalism from the University of Missouri. She has a Ph.D. in Adult Education from the University of Georgia. She has been working in the Education field since 1994, and has taught every grade level in the K-12 system, specializing in English education, and English as a Second Language education.