When is grade retention helpful? (Best Evidence in Brief

There is a new Best Evidence in Brief and this time I picked this study from this biweekly newsletter written up by Justin Hill because it’s a very hot topic in my language region:

Mieke Goos and colleagues recently conducted a meta-analysis of the effectiveness of grade retention practices in OECD countries. This adds to an already extensive list of meta-analyses on the subject by accounting for both the frequency of grade retention practices within a country and the level of support provided to students who are retained. After restricting the analysis to studies with a clearly defined experimental group and control group, the researchers eventually included 84 studies of grade retention practices for students who were not keeping pace with their peers or who did not meet predefined levels of academic success.
An analysis of the full sample of studies indicated no significant differences on academic achievement for grade repeaters compared with grade non-repeaters. However, an examination of the moderators found significant effects of how retention is used, outcome timing, and comparison approach. A significant negative effect of grade retention (Hedges’ g = − 0.18) was noted in countries that used grade retention more frequently and as a method for dealing with student heterogeneity (e.g., Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands). In contrast, a significant positive effect (Hedges’ g = 0.05) was noted in countries that used grade retention more sparingly and only as a last resort (e.g., United States, United Kingdom, and Canada).
This meta-analysis helps to expand the literature on grade retention by exploring the effects of retention practices under different circumstances. The results suggest that grade retention is best if used sparingly but may be appropriate and helpful in specific situations.

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