When a Student is "Held Back": New Research on the Impact

September 29, 2014William Schmitt

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New research published by Megan Andrew, an assistant professor of sociology who is also on the faculty of Notre Dame's Center for Research on Educational Opportunity (CREO), demonstrates that primary-grade retention likely affects a student's educational attainments well after that primary school student was retained. Such retention decisions by administrators are commonly known as "holding back" a student to repeat a year of schooling. Andrew's research exploring the enduring impact--that is, scarring in the student's educational career--has been published in the journal Social Forces and was reported in the Sept. 26 edition of Science Daily online.

As reported online, "retaining a child in early primary school reduces his or her odds of high school completion by about 60 percent in propensity score matching and sibling fixed-effect models."  These results are based on a national sample and suggest that previous research using urban, mostly disadvantaged students may mis-characterize the scarring effects of grade retention for all students.  The Social Forces article is titled, "The Scarring Effects of Primary-Grade Retention? A Study of Cumulative Advantage in the Educational Career." Andrew, a fellow in Notre Dame's Institute for Educational Initiatives, argues that the scarring effects operate mainly in the form of high school completion prospects and the best hope for recovery from this scarring occurs early in the student's educational career.