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In 2012, among children in grades one through three, those with a parent who did not complete high school were more nearly five times more likely to have repeated a grade than were children with a parent who had a bachelor’s degree or higher.


Young children often repeat a grade because teachers and parents feel they have not acquired the appropriate academic or social skills to advance to the next grade level. Some believe that by spending an extra year at the earlier level, children will be able to gain the skills needed for success in the next grade. Much research shows that repeating a grade does not benefit children either academically or socially.[1] Students who repeat a grade continue to have significantly lower scores on standardized tests than their low-scoring peers who were not held back. One study of children who had repeated second grade found that their test scores were very similar to those of students in special education. Children who were retained in early grades were also more likely than other students to later drop out of school.[2],[3] However, subsequent outcomes may be difficult to disentangle from the reasons children were held back in the first place.

For example, grade retention is also associated with children’s socio-emotional difficulties. Some studies have found that children who had repeated a grade, in comparison to matched non-retained students, showed poorer social adjustment, more negative attitudes towards school, more problem behaviors, lower achievement, and less frequent attendance, although other studies have found fewer significant differences.[4],[5],[6],[7] According to one study, the majority of students who were retained in the early elementary grades had not received an individualized education plan (IEP) by fifth grade, a finding that raises a question of whether retained children who may have undiagnosed learning disabilities are receiving the services they need.[8]

Some observers argue against the practice of “social promotion,” or advancing children so they can stay in step with their peers, regardless of academic achievement. One study suggests that social promotion can have negative effects, such as decreased interest in school and reading.[9] Social promotion can result in academic achievement that lags behind grade-level norms, which may increase the likelihood of dropping out. Particularly when children have not acquired basic reading skills by third grade, there is some evidence that retaining them in grade can result in short-term improvements in achievement—and in reducing the likelihood that the student will be retained in a later grade.[10]

In sum, the evidence argues for the importance of early identification of academic difficulties, and evidence-based instructional interventions, both to obviate the need for retention, and to ensure that students who are retained succeed.


Between 1993 and 2012, the percentage of first- through third-graders who had repeated a grade remained steady, at between four and six percent. (Figure 1)

Note: Those children who repeated only kindergarten or who delayed the start of kindergarten are excluded from all of these estimates.

Differences by Race and Hispanic Origin[11]

In 2012, Hispanic and black children (at eight and seven percent, respectively) were more likely than white children (at three percent) to have repeated a grade of primary school.  (Figure 2)







Differences by Parental Educational Attainment

Children whose parents have  at least a bachelor’s degree are much less likely than children whose parents have less education to repeat a grade. In 2012, two percent of children with a parent who had a bachelor’s degree or more repeated a grade, compared with  five percent of children whose parents completed some college or a technical vocational degree, eight percent of children whose parents received a high school degree or equivalent, and nine percent of children whose parents had a high school degree or less. (Figure 3)

Differences by Poverty and Receipt of Public

Children living in households receiving SNAP benefits (food stamps) or Medicaid are more likely than those from households not receiving those benefits to have ever repeated a grade. (Appendix 1)

Differences by Region

99_fig4First- through third-graders living in the South are more than three times more likely (nine percent) than their counterparts in the Northeast, Midwest, or West to have repeated a grade (between two and three percent). (Figure 4)




State and Local Estimates

2011/12 state estimates for the percentage of children (ages 6-17) who have repeated a grade since starting kindergarten (not since first grade, as in this indicator) are available through the Data Resource Center for Child & Adolescent Health.

International Estimates

UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) has published grade repetition rates at primary and secondary education levels, for selected countries.  See the Global Education Digest 2012.

What Works to Make Progress on This Indicator

Schools use several practices, particularly during the early elementary years, to reduce the need for student retention. At a school level, having highly qualified teachers is important, because teacher experience and qualifications are correlated with student performance. Structuring the academic schedule through extended learning time programs so that students have a greater amount of class time in core classes may also lower retention rates, as well as reduce summer learning loss.[12] Alternatives that address individual differences in achievement, such as ensuring that children with disabilities receive special education, implementing early intervention programs, offering multi-age classrooms, encouraging parental involvement, enrolling students in summer school, or increasing preschool attendance, should also be explored.[13],[14],[15],[16]

At a student level, participation in high-quality pre-school or other early learning programs, increased parental involvement with their child’s education, and ensuring that children with disabilities receive special education services, are all ways that may serve to reduce grade retention in the early elementary years.[17] These types of early education programs are especially beneficial for children in low-income families, who are more likely to be retained.

Related Indicators


This indicator includes children in first through third grade (or the equivalent if they are home-schooled, etc.).

Parents who answered “yes,” when asked if their children had repeated any grade since first grade are included in these estimates.

Data Source

Child Trends’
original analyses of data from the National
Household Education Surveys.

Raw Data Source

National Household Education


Appendix 1 – Percentage of Children in Grades 1 through 3 who Repeated a Grade: Selected years, 1993-2012

1993 1995 1996 2001 2003 2005 2007 2012
Total 4.5 4.6 5.7 5.7 4.9 5.8 4.5 4.6
Male 5.0 5.4 7.4 6.8 5.8 6.6 5.4 5.9
Female 3.9 3.7 3.9 4.5 4.0 5.0 3.6 3.3
Race/Hispanic Origin
3.5 3.6 4.4 4.3 3.6 4.1 3.9 2.5
9.0 7.1 8.3 8.6 9.9 10.2 5.3 6.8
Hispanic 5.6 8.2 8.5 7.9 5.5 7.4 6.3 8.4
Parental Education
Less than
a high school degree
11.8 9.5 12.9 15.4 10.4 15.6 13.8 8.8
school degree/equivalent
6.3 5.8 7.3 8.3 8.4 7.6 7.2 7.8
college/ vocational degree
2.8 4.6 4.4 4.7 4.1 5.9 4.6 5.0
degree or more
1.5 1.9 2.6 1.7 2.4 2.8 1.9 1.9
Immigrant Status
Native born with native
born parents
5.7 4.8 5.5 4.4 4.2
Native born with a
foreign born parent
4.3 4.2 6.0 4.2 4.7
Foreign born 6.8 8.1 7.7 7.7 10.0
1993 1995 1996 2001 2003 2005 2007 2012
Primary Language Spoken
in the Home
parents’ main language is English
4.5 4.4 5.5 5.6 5.0 5.5 4.1 4.1
parent’s main language is not English
1.4 8.5 17.4 8.3 5.9 2.9 11.7
parent’s main language is English
4.8 6.1 5.8 5.8 3.9 9.4 6.0 9.3
Poverty level
Household income at or
below poverty line
10.0 9.7
Household income above
poverty line
3.6 3.3
WIC benefits
Received WIC benefits in
the past 12 months
6.6 4.6 6.5 6.6 6.6 6.4 9.2
Did not receive WIC
benefits in the past 12 months
4.4 5.8 5.6 4.7 5.7 4.3 4.0
TANF/AFDC benefits
Received TANF/AFDC
benefits in the past 12 months
7.8 9.9 14.0 10.7 7.1 8.6
Did not receive
TANF/AFDC benefits in the past 12 months
4.2 5.0 4.2 5.7 4.4 4.4
Medicaid Receipt
Medicaid in the past 12 months
11.6 10.9 9.1 7.3 9.5
Did not
receive Medicaid in the past 12 months
4.3 3.5 4.6 3.5 3.0
Food Stamp Receipt
food stamps in the past 12 months
8.3 9.6 14.5 11.2 10.2 10.0 7.8
Did not
receive food stamps in the past 12 months
3.7 4.6 4.3 3.9 5.0 3.4 3.7
1993 1995 1996 2001 2003 2005 2007 2012
City 5.7
Suburb 3.2
Town 7.2
Rural 4.7
inside urbanized area
4.1 4.9 5.9 5.1 4.7
outside urbanized area
4.4 4.7 6.2 3.9 3.2
Rural, not Urban 5.5 3.9 5.0 5.0 5.9 7.5
Northeast 5.1 5.9 5.0 4.6 5.1 6.0 3.4 1.8
Midwest 3.7 2.6 5.1 4.3 3.3 3.5 2.9 2.2
South 5.9 5.9 7.8 7.3 7.5 8.2 7.2 8.5
West 2.4 3.2 3.4 5.7 2.7 4.5 2.8 2.9
Neighborhood Poverty
(under 18)
Less than
5 percent
3.4 3.2 4.3 2.7 4.0 3.1 2.7
5 to 9
3.4 3.5 5.6 5.2 5.7 5.0 3.5
10 to 19
6.2 7.1 7.4 6.8 8.1 6.5 7.9
percent and more
8.2 9.1 8.9 13.0 11.7 6.5 7.2
Type of School
Public 4.6 4.6 6.1 6.1 5.4 6.0 5.0 5.0
(not church-related)
3.0 2.7 3.9 5.4 5.4 4.8
3.3 4.8 2.3 1.7 1.1 4.1 2.1
Grade level
4.5 3.1 4.0 2.6 2.4 4.0 3.9 2.6
4.4 4.3 6.3 8.4 6.1 6.0 4.5 5.4
3.4 6.3 7.0 6.3 6.5 7.6 5.3 5.9
“-” Sample size for these estimates are below 20 and thus do not
provide reliable estimates.Source: Child Trends’ original analyses of National Household
Education Survey data.



[1]Jimerson, S.
R., Kaufman, A. M.(2003).
Reading, writing, and retention: A primer on grade retention research.
Teacher, 56

[2]Jimerson, S. R., Anderson, G. E., & Whipple, A. D. (2002). Winning the
battle and losing the war: Examining the relation between grade retention and
dropping out of high school. Psychology in the Schools. 39, 441-

[3]Randolph, K., Fraser, M., and Orthner, D. (2004). Educational Resilience among
Youth at Risk. Substance Use & Misuse, 39(5), 747-767.

Shane R. and Kaufman, A. M.(2003). Op. cit.

[5]Jimerson, S.R. & Ferguson,
P. (2007). A longitudinal study of grade retention: Academic and behavioral
outcomes of retained students through adolescence. School Psychology
, 22(3), 314-339.

[6]Jimerson, S.R., Pletcher, S.M.W., Graydon, K., et
al. (2006). Beyond grade retention and social promotion: Promoting the social
and academic competence of students. Psychology in the Schools, 43(1),

[7]Hong, G. & Yu, B. (2007).
Early-grade retention and children’s reading and math learning in elementary
years.Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis. 29(4),

[8]Silverstein, M., Guppy, N., Young, R., and
Augustyn, M. (2009). Receipt of special education services following
elementary grade retention. Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine,
(6), 547-553.

[9]Hong, G. & Yu, B. (2008). Effects
of kindergarten retention on children’s social-emotional development: An
application of propensity score method to multivariate, multilevel data. Developmental
, 44(2), 407-421.

West, M. R. (2012). Is retaining students
in the early grades self-defeating?
Center on Working Families at
Brookings. Retrieved from

[11]Hispanics may be of any race.

[12]Pennington, H. (2006). Expanding learning time
in school
. Washington DC: Center for American Progress.

Adelman, N.E., Haslam,
M. B., and Pringle, B. A. (1996). The uses of time for teaching and
. Washington DC: U.S. Department of Education.

[13]U.S. Department of Education. (1999). Taking
responsibility for ending social promotion: A guide for educators and state and
local leaders
. Available at

[14]Reynolds, A.
J., Temple, J. A., and Ou, S.
(2003). School-based early intervention and child well-being in the Chicago longitudinal
study. Child Welfare, 82(5), 633-657. Available at

[15]Jimerson, S. R., Pletcher, S. M. W., Graydon, K.,
et al. (2006). Op. cit.

[16]Cooper, H., Charlton, K., Valentine, J.C., Muhlenbruck, L., and Borman, G.D.
(2000). Making the most of summer school: A meta-analytic and narrative review.
Monographs of the Society of Research in Child Development, 65(1),

[17]National Research Council and Institute of
Medicine. (2000). From neurons to neighborhoods: The science of early
childhood development
. J.P. Shonkoff & D.A. Phillips (Eds.).
Washington, D.C.: Board on Children, Youth, and Families, Commission on
Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. National Academy Press

Child Trends.
(undated). High/Scope Perry Preschool Program. Retrieved July 23rd, 2010, from

Burchinal, P., Kainz,
K., Cai, K., Tout, K., Zaslow, M., Martinez-Beck, I., et al. (2009). Early
care and education quality and child outcomes
. (Research-to-Policy,
Research-to-Practice Brief). Washington, DC: Child Trends and the Office of
Policy, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families.

Boccanfuso, C.,
Moore, K. A., and Whitney, C. (2010). Ten ways to promote educational
achievement and attainment beyond the classroom
. Child Trends
Research-to-Results Brief, #2010-16. Retrieved from

Catsambis, S. (1998).
Expanding knowledge of parental involvement in secondary education: Its
social determinants and its effects on high school academic success
#27). Baltimore, MD: CRESPAR, Johns Hopkins University.

Fan, X., & Chen,
M. (2001). Parental involvement and students’ academic achievement: A growth
modeling analysis. The Journal of Experimental Education, 70(1), 27-60.

Test, D. W., Mason,
C., Hughes, C,. et al. (2004). Student involvement in individualized education
program- meetings. Exceptional Children, 70(4), 391-412.


Suggested Citation:

Child Trends Databank. (2015). Children who repeated a grade. Available at:


Last updated: December 2015