Kids struggling in school? Holding them back won’t hurt — or help

Teacher points to paper on table while girl watches and boy writes with pencil.

In 2000, Dr. Jan Hughes, professor in the department of Educational Psychology, recruited 784 first grade students for an in-depth look at the complex issue of grade retention.

The study, known as Project Achieve, sought to answer the “ultimate” question: Does repeating a year of schooling make a student less likely to graduate?

In the 14 years since, Dr. Hughes has continued to follow that group of students throughout their academic careers; from their first day of school to (as closely as possible)  the moment they graduate high school.

Funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the project seeks to generates a large body of data on the factors that can derail a child’s path to graduation – accounting for teacher-student relationships, social/emotional skills and, of course, grade retention.

As her subjects approach their expected graduation date, Dr. Hughes and her team now begin to see an answer: They can find no evidence that grade retention either helps or harms students’ academic achievement or social or behavioral development.

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