Teachers' beliefs about grade retention

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


A multimethod approach was used to gain a better understanding of teachers' beliefs about retention in grades K-7. The participants in this study were the 135 classroom and specialty teachers in one school division (with six elementary schools, K-7). Two survey instruments were developed: (a) the Teacher Retention Belief Questionnaire designed to obtain teachers' explicit beliefs about retention, and (b) the Retention Decision Simulation designed to indicate the influence of academic performance, social maturity, ability, gender, size and age on the decision to retain students. Interviews were conducted with 36 classroom teachers representing a cross section of grade levels and retention practices to discover how teachers make retention decisions.

Findings suggest that teachers at all grade levels believe retention is an acceptable school practice and one they reserve the right to use. They believe retention prevents students from facing failure in the next higher grade. Teachers at all grade levels share common beliefs about the benefits for students retained in grades K-3, but are less certain about the positive effects of retaining students in grades 4-7.

Academic performance of the student is a key factor in determining whether a student will be promoted, but a number of other factors including maturity, ability, age, size, and effort, also influence teachers' decisions. Findings suggest that immaturity is a more important factor for K-3 teachers and low motivation and effort are more important for 4-7 teachers. Interview data reveal that while factors such as ability may be important in determining whether a child is retained, teachers interpret such factors differently.

Essentially most teachers retain students because they believe they are doing what "is in the best interest of the child." For some teachers this means giving the child time to develop academically or socially. For other teachers this means teaching the child the work ethic, if the child does not put forth effort, the child is retained.