Pros and Cons of Voluntary Retention by Parents

When children are struggling in school, some parents are demanding their children be retained. What do the experts say about this?

No Child Left Behind and Grade Retention Share a Common Link

All the emphasis on proficient standardized test scores has parents concerned that their children won’t measure up. Parents prefer that their child be in the top of the class and hope that another year in the same grade will give their child an academic advantage. Specific scores necessary for No Child Left Behind are giving parents a better idea where children rank. Low scores concern parents and retention looks attractive.

Suzy Post, director of admission at Rumson Country Day School in Rumson, New Jersey said, "In the 1970s and 1980s, parents used to push kids ahead, and have them do things as young as possible. But I have seen a change in parents’ attitude toward delaying entry or repeating a grade. Today, a trend to delay children’s kindergarten entry has resulted in kindergarten students at or near the age of 6." [1] In the past parents sent their children to kindergarten if they were the age of five by the time the school year began. Visitors Support Retention

A website,, recently had parents take an informal survey asking if they would request retention for their child even if the school did not recommend it. Out of 313 respondents, 74% stated they supported voluntary retention without recommendation from the school.

Typically, a school will not recommend retention lightly. A committee of professionals consisting of the principal, classroom teacher, reading and/or math specialists, and parents will discuss the data available. In the majority of cases, retention is not recommended.

National Association of School Psychologists Does Not Support Retention

The NASP, National Association of School Psychologists, does not support retaining students. These experts state that retention may mask the need for remedial tutoring or a learning disability. Instead of retention, the NASP recommends

  • differentiated teaching methods
  • tutoring
  • small-group instruction
  • summer school
  • after school programs
  • testing for learning disabilities
The NASP did state that children’s self-esteem often improves once they become more successful in school after being retained. However, a 2009 Rand Corporation review of 92 studies on retention resulted in retention holding little value in the long-term. While students may see a bump in academic performance, after a few years the academic advantage tends to level out. [1]

Johns Hopkins University Does Not Recommend Retention

Professor of sociology at Johns Hopkins University, Karl Alexander, believes that retention increases the chance of a child dropping out of school. Alexander believes that a more "mature" student is less likely to blend in with peers and is more likely to feel different. Belonging to a group is especially important in middle school and high school.

When dealing with students that have been retained, the most important factors in being successful in school are parents with a positive attitude and keeping students engaged in school with sports and other activities. [1]

[1] Shellenbarger, Sue. "The Parental Push to Repeat a Grade." The Wall Street Journal, August 11, 2010.