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Is Retention an Appropriate Reading Intervention?

"Retention is a commonly used reading intervention. Do you see retention as an appropriate intervention? Please explain the scientific evidence supporting retention as an intervention." - Doctoral Fellow, University of Florida

Reid Lyon Answers

Retention is hard to study experimentally because this is not a condition you can do randomized trials with - NOR WOULD YOU WANT TO!!!

An instructional program that has not been successful with a student will not become more successful by trying this same program again.

In most cases, kids do not succeed in learning to read because they have not received necessary instruction given their skill levels, not because they are experiencing a "developmental lag."

Take a look at the research on reading development published in the New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of the American Medical Association and Sally Shaywitz' Longitudinal studies. These data will give you good background on retention and the developmental lag issues.

Note from Wrightslaw: In October 2004, Education Week sponsored a Live Chatwith Dr. Reid Lyon, research psychologist and chief of the Child Development and Behavior Branch, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health. Dr. Lyon answered questions about reading programs, evidenced-based research, reading myths, and the Reading First program. This question and answer is from the transcript of that chat.

Meet Reid Lyon

G. Reid Lyon is a research psychologist and the chief of the Child Development and Behavior Branch within the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health. He has been an influential proponent of the scientific approach to reading instruction and development.

Retention Resources

At Wrightslaw, we receive dozens of emails every week about retention. Despite overwhelming evidence that retention does not work - and that it damages children - many school districts continue to use this outmoded policy.

If you are dealing with a retention problem, you must educate yourself before you can advocate for your child. Download and read these articles. Read the articles from the National Association of School Psychologists and the American Federation of Teachers. Make copies of these documents for members of your child's team - they support our position that retention is not an appropriate intervention.

Grade Retention - Achievement and Mental Health Outcomes (National Association of School Psychologists) 6th grade students rated grade retention as the single most stressful life event, higher than the loss of a parent or going blind. Retained students are less likely to receive a high school diploma by age 20, receive poorer educational competence ratings, and are less likely to be enrolled in any post-secondary education program. Retained students receive lower educational and employment status ratings and are paid less per hour at age 20.

Position Statement on Student Grade Retention and Social Promotion (National Association of School Psychologists) "Through many years of research, the practice of retaining children in grade has been shown to be ineffective in meeting the needs of children who are academically delayed."

Two Wrong Solutions (American Federation of Teachers) "Social promotion and grade retention are mechanical responses to an educational problem. The scandal is how little attention they give to preventing failure in the first place."

The Grade Retention Fallacy (Harvard Civil Rights Project) "Research tells us that fear and humiliation are not the strongest motivators for struggling students."

Go to Retention & Social Promotion for more resources, flyers, and info about these issues.

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