Third Grade Reading Retention Is Back. Should It Be?

Sarah Schwartz:

Research has borne out that it’s harder for students to succeed if they’re not proficient by 3rd grade. One landmark study found that students who couldn’t read on grade level by then were four times less likely to graduate high school on time than their peers who could.

But whether requiring struggling students to repeat that 3rd grade year will lead to better results is a different and more complicated question. Research findings on the policy are mixed, and have to be weighed against the negative social and emotional consequences of holding students back a grade. Many studies show only short-term academic gains, while others demonstrate greater likelihood of adverse outcomes like bullying.

The debate around these policies is heating up again now, as states wrestle with when to restart them after many were suspended during the early days of the pandemic. Alabama, for example, passed legislation that required 3rd grade retention in 2019, but decided to delay the enforcement of that policy until the 2023-24 school year.