Repeat Rates for Each State Show 450k Students Held Back

According to a new report released by the University of Minnesota, between three and four percent of students were denied promotion to the second grade during the 2008-2009 academic year. Over the entire country, that averages out to about one student per each and every first grade classroom. In total, nearly 450,000 students – in [...]

According to a new report released by the University of Minnesota, between three and four percent of students were denied promotion to the second grade during the 2008-2009 academic year. Over the entire country, that averages out to about one student per each and every first grade classroom. In total, nearly 450,000 students – in grades 1 through 8 – were left back a grade that year.

The study, which is being published in Education Researcher, is the first of its kind to present a state-by-state breakdown of the how frequently students are being held back a grade. Using the data collected by the U.S. Department of Education’s Common Core of Data, the report provides information for students left back in each state between the 2002-2003 and 2008-2009 academic years.

“We have not previously had a reliable and valid way to know how often children are repeating grades in each state or nationally,” said John Robert Warren, co-author of the study and U of M sociology professor. “The fact that so many students are retained – at some expense to their school districts and to the students themselves – should motivate additional research on this topic.”

This is the first time that retention information could be systematically analyzed. Prior to this report, student retention was studied using single cohorts or from data provided by state education administrators, which made it impossible to make state by state comparisons or observe and compute retention trends over time.

Until the state-by-state data was made available, it was believed that the highest rates of retention came in first grade. Although the UM paper confirms that somewhat, there is also a strong indication that which grades see the highest retention rates differs widely between the states. The analysis of the DOE data shows that Minnesota has one of the lowest first grade retention rates in the country. Fewer than half a percent of its first graders are forced to repeat the grade they failed instead of being promoted with their peers.

“We have not previously had a reliable and valid way to know how often children are repeating grades in each state or nationally,” said John Robert Warren, co-author of the study and U of M sociology professor. “The fact that so many students are retained – at some expense to their school districts and to the students themselves – should motivate additional research on this topic.”

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