Monthly Article Archives: November 2002

School Retention: A Common Practice but Is It Effective?Robert Brooks, Ph.D.

“Should my child be retained in school?” “Is retention beneficial?” “Can retention be harmful?” I am often asked these kinds of questions, especially given my work with students who demonstrate learning and behavioral problems. I am not surprised these questions arise since retention is a common educational practice. However, the frequency of a practice should not be confused with its effectiveness. Some interventions may appear sensible and logical. Consequently, they become increasingly accepted and are implemented even in the absence of data supporting their efficacy. A major reason cited for the use of retention is that the child is immature and lagging significantly behind his or her peers academically and/or socially. A proposed remedy is for the child to repeat the same grade and be exposed for a second year to the same curriculum, thereby providing the child with an opportunity to mature and experience success (albeit with classmates who are at least a year younger). As we shall see, this rationale contains a major flaw, namely, the assumption that these children simply need an extra year to “catch up” with their peer group. Many of these youngsters require intensive interventions to address their learning and social difficulties that will

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