Grade Retention and School Performance: An Extended Investigation

Ann R. McCoy and Arthur J. Reynolds


We conducted a follow-up study of the predictors and consequences of grade retention up to age 14 for school achievement, perceived school competence and delinquency. The study sample included 1,164 low-income, minority (95% African American, 5% Hispanic) children in the Chicago Longitudinal Study. This was 93% of Reynolds' (1992) original study. Twenty-eight percent of the study sample were retained-in-grade by age 14 (first grade to eighth grade). The strongest predictors of retention were early school performance (test scores and grades), sex (boys were more likely to be retained), parent participation in school, and school mobility. Grade retention was significantly associated with lower reading and math achievement at age 14 above and beyond a comprehensive set of explanatory variables. Results based on same-age comparison groups yielded larger effects of retention on school achievement than those based on same-grade comparisons. Both approaches, however, indicated that grade retention was associated with significantly lower reading achievement. Grade retention was unrelated to perceived school competence at age 12 and to delinquency infractions at age 14. With one exception, grade retention during the primary grades yielded similar effects as grade retention during grades four to seven. Like the earlier fourth-grade study, findings suggest that intervention approaches other than grade retention are needed to better promote school achievement and adjustment.

In Press, Journal of School Psychology