Category Archives: third grade retention

Advantages and disadvantages of third grade retention

Advantages of third grade retention for poor readers:

If students are young for their grade (summer birthdays), retaining will make them among the oldest students in the class, often an academic advantage.

If students cannot read at a fourth grade level, promoting them to fourth grade sets them up for problems in all subjects which require reading.  If those students are instead retained, they have another year to prepare for fourth grade reading levels.

If all students, no matter their achievement level, are automatically promoted, they learn that they will advance through school whether they work or not.  This might lead to poor work habits.  Retaining students can make them more responsible.

If poor readers are promoted with their class, parents might deceive themselves about their children’s skill levels, and might not intervene until  students are hopelessly behind.

If teachers know their students could be held back, those teachers might try harder to meet the reading needs of poorer readers.

If the retained student receives additional reading help, his chances of starting fourth grade at grade level improve.

Disadvantages of third grade retention for poor readers:

If students are retained, they might have lower self-esteem which in turn might lead to depression, a poor work ethic and continued failure.

If students are retained, they will lose friendships they have made.  They might become the victims of bullying and ridicule.

Retained students probably will be angry when they learn what is happening, seeing themselves as failures, and wanting even less to learn to read.

If poor readers are retained, they may show a temporary burst in achievement, but compared to poor readers who were promoted, they might show less achievement over time.

A retained student costs a school district more than $10,000 for that extra year of schooling.

Students’ poor reading achievement could be due to social and familial reasons, which if not improved, might keep students at a low reading level despite retention.

Students who are retained are more likely to drop out of high school.  High school drop outs are five times more likely to have been previously retained.

If poor readers are promoted along with good and advanced readers, teachers will face students with a wide variety of reading levels in the same classroom.  Teachers will need to slow down and repeat, repeat, repeat for the sake of the poor readers, lowering the achievement of the non-retained students.

Does your state require poor readers to repeat third grade?

Fifteen states plus Washington, D.C, require third graders who are not reading at a “proficient” level by the end of the school year to repeat third grade.  Those states include Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, and Washington.  Three more states are about to join the list:  South Carolina at the end of the 2017-2018 school year; Nevada on July 1, 2019; and Michigan at the end of the 2019-2020 school year.*

Eight other states allow third grade retention but do not mandate it: Alaska, Colorado, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma and West Virginia.

States offer exemptions to some students, such as ESL students, special ed students, students who have recommendations from parents and teachers, and students who have been retained once already.

Even so, almost half of all states require or allow a student who is not reading well at the end of third grade to repeat it.


  • Educators consider fourth grade a transition year. In kindergarten to third grade, students learn to read.  In fourth grade and beyond, students read to learn.  Starting in fourth grade, students can’t learn well unless they can read.
  • Research in 2015 showed that about two out of three American fourth graders could not read proficiently, that is, at a basic level. Almost 4/5 of African American, Native American and Latino students could not read at a proficient level.
  • Down the road, about ¼ of those below basic level readers won’t graduate from high school.

In  the next blog we’ll look at some of the pros and cons concerning third grade retention.