A meta-analysis of the effects of grade retention on the achievement of elementary school children

Sharon Anne Stirler Yoshida, Fordham University


Current interest in the grade-standards promotion policy and grade retention, resulting from the minimum competency testing movement, emphasizes the need for practical research information on the differential effects of promotion policies in a way that can assist policy makers. Meta-analysis was employed to conduct an integrative review of the research literature, and to analyze relationships between substantive and methodological variables of the sample studies and study results. The substantive variables included sex, ethnicity, SES, and grade level of the pupils retained; the academic interventions used during the year of retention; and the measures or criteria used to determine academic progress subsequent to retention. The methodological variables were the quality of the study; the era of publication, that is, the promotion policy in vogue when the study was published; and the time elapsed between retention and the measurement of the effects. Thirty-four studies were drawn from dissertation abstracts, journal articles, ERIC documents, narrative reviews, and education references. They met these criteria: (a) they investigated the effects of grade retention in the elementary grades on subsequent student achievement, (b) they included two groups of students, retained students and promoted students, (c) they took place in the United States, and (d) they reported data from which an effect size, that is, a normally distributed statistic defined as the mean of the treatment group minus the mean of the control group divided by the standard deviation of the control group, could be computed. The results of the meta-analysis indicated that grade retention has a negative impact overall on subsequent academic achievement across studies with different designs and methodologies. Most studies did not define what occurred during the year of retention. However, the value of an individualized educational program (IEP) for each retained student needs further evaluation because retained students appeared to do better in arithmetic with an IEP in two studies which specified their use during the year of retention. No significant differences were found for grade level of retention. The sampled studies contained insufficient data for comparisons based upon sex, ethnicity, and SES. Suggestions for future research include: (a) random assignment of low achieving student to a retention or promotion condition, (b) operational definition of the retention treatment, and (c) development of a policy evaluation program that includes variables such as the promotion policy as written, the policy as implemented in specific sites, and the effects of the implemented policy on groups of students and individual students with different characteristics.

Subject Area

Elementary education|School administration

Recommended Citation

Stirler Yoshida, Sharon Anne, "A meta-analysis of the effects of grade retention on the achievement of elementary school children" (1989). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8918461.