In the United States, about 5 percent of all public-school children are retained each year. But a recent study of children in Michigan revealed that 72 percent of learning-disabled children had been retained before they were referred for evaluation. Thirty percent of them had been retained more than once.
Researchers Katherine P. Barnett, Harvey F. Clarizio, and Karen A.. Payette, Michigan State University, studied 344 children from kindergarten to 12th grade who were referred for learning problems. Each referred child was evaluated with the Wechsler Intelligence Test and a comprehensive academic battery.
On the basis of their performance on these tests, 201 of the 344 students in the sample were classified as learning disabled.
When these researchers examined school records to determine how many of these students had been retained before referral, they found that more than two-thirds of the 201 students diagnosed as L.D. had been retained in earlier grades.
The retentions did not include delayed entrance to kindergarten or transitional years between kindergarten and first grade.
The researchers noted that urban, minority students, especially African-Americans, were significantly more likely to be retained than Caucasian children or children attending suburban schools.
Males were no more likely than females to be retained. Retained students scored significantly lower on the intelligence test and had poorer academic skills than students who were not retained prior to referral.
This study did not investigate the relationship of L.D. retention to other risk factors. However, the retention rate of these learning-disabled students is three times higher than the 20 percent retention rate among a group of at-risk, low-income, minority children studied previously.
Barnett et al. expressed concern about the use of retention as a remedy for students have learning problems.
Retention has been shown to be ineffective in improving students’ performance. Although the financial burden of retention is not as readily apparent as special-program costs in school budgets, it is an expensive practice to give children an extra year of schooling, especially when more than two-thirds of those retained are later identified as needing special education services.
These results indicate a need to explore prereferral strategies and policies about retention of children. These researchers speculate that urban schools may not have the resources to meet the evaluation needs of their student populations and therefore use retention in an effort to give children an extra year to catch up. They suggest that ungraded or multi-age primary classrooms, peer tutoring, parent involvement, team teaching and cooperative learning need to be studied as financially feasible alternatives to retention.
“Grade Retention Among Students With Learning Disabilities”, Psychology in the Schools, Volume 33, Number 4, October 1996, pp.285-293
Published in ERN January/February 1997 Volume 10 Number 1