Friday, March 03, 2006

Kindergarten retention effect on cognitve growth--an adverse effect

Having been a school psychologist for 10 years prior to moving on to my current endeavors, I'm not surprised to see the very active thread on the NASP listserv re: decisions to retain or promote children at this time of the year. I used to hate this time of year as teachers would refer children for possible if my magical box of tests and clinical experience would help make the decision easier. I agonized over these decisions and even participated in Gessell training to help me better make these decisions. My philosophy re: retention/promotion varied over my 10 year career. Eventually the point that started to gnaw at me was the mounting empirical evidence that argued against the practice of retention.

That being said, and no longer being in the trenches, I can now retreat to the safe world of scholarship and make a contribution by providing an FYI to a recently published (click here to read entire article) large scale study that again argues against the policy of retaining kids (I'm talking about at kindergarten...when it is most prevelant). Below is the citation, abstract, and a few select concluding statements from a non-to-shabby large scale national study (that means big n's folks)--the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study.

The results continue to argue against the benefits of retention and, in fact, suggest that retention can result in stunted cognitive growth in reading and math. Where talking about a potential adverse negative impact of the loss of 2/3 of a standard deviation in cognitive growth in reading and math 1 year after retention.....that is not small!

Yes.....each decision is an n=1 decision. Yes...I know that there will likey be cases where it makes sense...and there will be success stories. But, one cannot argue with the overwhelming empirical evidence that argues against a knee-jerk retention policy. Providing strong, convincing, reasonable evidence in favor of retaining a child in Kdgn would appear to be a burden of proof that those arguing for retention need to bear.

Hong, G. & Raudenbush, St. (2005). Effects of Kindergarten Retention Policy on Children's Cognitive Growth in Reading and MathematicsEducational Evaluation and Policy Analysis Fall 2005, Vol. 27, No. 3, pp. 205-224

  • Grade retention has been controversialfor many years, and current calls to end social promotion have lent new urgency to this issue. On the one hand, a policy of retaining in grade those students making slow progress might facilitate instruction by making classrooms more homogeneous academically. On the other hand, grade retention might harm high-risk students by limiting their learning opportunities. Analyzing data from the US Early Childhood Longitudinal Study Kindergarten cohort with the technique of multilevel propensity score stratification, we find no evidence that a policy of grade retention in kindergarten improves average achievement in mathematics or reading. Nor do we find evidence that the policy benefits children who would be promoted under the policy. However, the evidence does suggest that children who are retained learn less than they would have had they instead been promoted. The negative effect of grade retention on those retained has little influence on the overall mean achievement of children attending schools with a retention policy because the fraction of children retained in those schools is quite small. Nevertheless, the effect of retention on the retaineesis considerably large.
Select concluding statements (italics added by blogmaster)
  • "Children who were retained would have learned more had they been promoted. This was true in both reading and math. After being retained for one year, the average loss in academic growth experienced by the retainees was about two-thirds of a standard deviation of the outcome in each subject area, equivalent to almost half a year's expected growth."
  • "Summarizing the above empirical findings, we conclude that the kindergarten retention treatment leaves most retainees even further behind, and, therefore, impedes these children's cognitive development over the repetition year. In general, at-risk children promoted to the next grade level seemed to have a better chance of growth acceleration. The results from this study challenge the practice of routinely using kindergarten retention as a solution to the difficulties experienced by young children."

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