grade retention

Some Factors to Consider in Making the Decision

Research findings over the last 50 years have consistently indicated that retaining students in a grade has negative rather than positive consequences for the great majority of children. Nevertheless, a number of educators continue to see repeating a grade as a viable option for some pupils.

The following list of factors should be carefully considered as part of the decision making process around grade retention. The list is generated from and substantiated by empirical research conducted over the last decade in North American schools. Dr. H. Wayne Light has developed a scale which allows principals, teachers, and parents to evaluate the likelihood of retention being beneficial for individual students. There are a number of conditions which make the success and benefits of repeating a grade very unlikely, and should therefore preclude retention. These factors are as follows:

  1. Knowledge of English language: little or no knowledge which is preventing skills acquisition;
  2. Physical size: a student who is significantly larger than others the same age;
  3. Student's age: a student who is more than one year older than the students in his or her class;
  4. Sex of student: girls in grades 4 to 12;
  5. Present grade placement: students in grade 7 to 12;
  6. Previous grade retention: a student who has had one or more grade retentions;
  7. Immature behaviour: a student who associates with children older than his or her age;
  8. Emotional problems: a student who often exhibits behaviours seen in emotionally disturbed children;
  9. History of delinquency: students with a history of discipline problems in the classroom, playground, and community and who has had contact with law enforcement;
  10. Experiential background: a student who has had many enrichment experiences (e.g., summer camp, foreign travel, youth groups, etc.);
  11. Siblings: a student who has a brother or sister at the same grade level or one grade level below student's present grade level;
  12. Parents' school participation: parents never attend teacher conferences and are not supportive of the school staff;
  13. Transiency: a student who has attended seven or more schools in the past three years;
  14. School attendance: a student who misses fewer than three days of school in nine months;
  15. Present level of academic achievement: a student who is at or above grade expectancy in both reading and spelling;
  16. Student's attitude about possible retention: after appropriate counseling by the teacher or parent, the child remains upset if the subject of retention is raised;
  17. Motivation to complete school tasks: students who avoid school related tasks (within their academic achievement level) even when offered individual help;
  18. History of learning disabilities: students who have been evaluated by a school psychologist and found to have a learning disability;
  19. Estimate of intelligence: a student whose intelligence is significantly above average.

For further information about these factors or about the Light's Retention Scale, please contact the Psychological Services staff member in your school.


Contributed by Dr. Ian Brown, 
Durham Catholic District School Board