Retention: The obvious answer or more harm than good?
The topic of retention or “failing” in the early grades is much debated. It is easy to say that one should be held back a grade if they do not acquire the necessary skills to move to the next. However, on further analysis this may not be the best decision for the student.
In Alfie Kohn’s book, The Schools Our Children Deserve: Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms and “Tougher Standards,” Kohn notes, “Students who have to repeat a grade are much more likely to drop out of school years later than if they hadn’t been held back.”
Moreover, Kohn states that the most comprehensive review of the available evidence shows that, “At risk students who are promoted achieve at the same or higher levels than comparable at-risk students who have been retained and…effects measured long term [are] more strongly negative than those measured short term.”
Further, Kohn points out that advocates of retention may “acknowledge some potential harm to a child’s self-esteem but hold that achievement gains are more important than this potential risk.” But, “the data suggest that retention is even more harmful to achievement than it is to a student’s self-concept or attitude towards school.”
Kohn says this does not mean you promote and forget about the problems of the student. If a student needs help then they should get it: “Special arrangements for tutoring make sense and may turn out to be less expensive than having a child repeat a grade. Better yet, teachers ought to work together, and with parents, to consider how they’ve been teaching.” Moreover, Kohn states that the opposite of retention is not social promotion, “but the willingness to look at deficiencies in the instruction instead of just the learner.”
Alfie Kohn’s findings seem to dispel the advantages of the practice of retention. In fact, his findings state that it does more harm than good. I would love to hear what you have to say.