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Research Report

Is Retaining Students in the Early Grades Self-Defeating?

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Whether a child is a proficient reader by the third grade is an important indicator of their future academic success. Indeed, substantial evidence indicates that unless students establish basic reading skills by that time, the rest of their education will be an uphill struggle. This evidence has spurred efforts to ensure that all students receive high-quality reading instruction in and even before the early grades. It has also raised the uncomfortable question of how to respond when those efforts fail to occur or prove unsuccessful: Should students who have not acquired a basic level of reading proficiency by grade three be promoted along with their peers? Or should they be retained and provided with intensive interventions before moving on to the next grade? This paper looks at the background on grade retention, a case study of test-based promotion in Florida, and policy implications.


West, M.R. Is Retaining Students in the Early Grades Self-Defeating? (2012) Brookings Institution, Center on Children and Families.