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REL Midwest Ask A REL Response

June 2017


1. What does the research say about the effect of student retention in third grade on future academic success?

2. What does the research say about academic "redshirting" on future student success?

Note: Academic "redshirting" for young children refers to the practice of postponing the entrance of age-eligible children into kindergarten in order to allow extra time for social, emotional, intellectual or physical growth.


Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest protocol, we conducted a search for research reports, descriptive studies, and policy briefs on the effect of (1) student retention in third grade and (2) academic "redshirting" in kindergarten on future academic success. For details on the databases and sources, keywords, and selection criteria used to create this response, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.

Below, we share a sampling of the publicly accessible resources on this topic. The search conducted is not comprehensive; other relevant references and resources may exist. We have not evaluated the quality of references and resources provided in this response, but offer this list to you for your information only.

Research References

1. What does the research say about the effect of student retention in third grade on future academic success?

Froman, T., Brown, S., & Luzon-Canasi, A. (2008). Third-grade retention: A four year follow-up. Miami, FL: Research Services, Miami-Dade County Public Schools. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: "This study duplicated the procedures used by Greene and Winters (2006) on data from the Miami-Dade school system with the advantage of an additional two year's worth of information. The results indicated that the effects of the retention policy are far from clear and arguably negative. There is considerable evidence to suggest that the apparent gains of the retained students may have been short-lived if not completely illusory. The lack of precise measurement and a precisely appropriate comparison group prevent an indisputable interpretation. The superficially obvious benefit of retention to some students and the equally obvious detriment of retention to others will likely keep large-scale test-based promotion policies a matter of heated debate subject to political fashion for the foreseeable future."

Greene, J. P., & Winters, M. A. (2004). An evaluation of Florida's program to end social promotion. (Education Working Paper No. 7). New York, NY: Center for Civic Innovation at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: "Nine states and three of the nation's biggest cities have adopted mandates intended to end 'social promotion' promoting students to the next grade level regardless of their academic proficiency. These policies require students in certain grades to reach a minimum benchmark on a standardized test in order to move on to the next grade. Florida, Texas, and seven other states, as well as the cities of New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia, have adopted mandatory promotion tests; these school systems encompass 30% of all U.S. public-school students. Proponents of such policies claim that students must possess basic skills in order to succeed in higher grades, while opponents argue that holding students back discourages them and only pushes them further behind. This study uses individual-level data provided by the Florida Department of Education to evaluate the initial effects of Florida's policy requiring students to reach a minimum threshold on the reading portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) to be promoted to the 4th grade. It examines the gains made in one year on math and reading tests by all Florida 3rd graders in the first cohort subject to the retention policy who scored below the necessary threshold, comparing them to all Florida 3rd graders in the previous year with the same low test scores, for whom the policy was not yet in force. Because some students subject to the policy obtained special exemptions and were promoted, the study also uses an instrumental regression analysis to separately measure the effects of actually being retained. The study measures gains made by students on both the high-stakes FCAT and the Stanford-9, a nationally respected standardized test that is also administered to all Florida students, but with no stakes tied to the results."

Nagaoka, J., & Roderick, M. (2004). Ending social promotion: The effects of retention. (Charting Reform in Chicago Series). Chicago, IL: Consortium on Chicago School Research. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: "A central focus of this report is estimating whether retention had a positive impact in students' achievement growth. Evaluating the effect of retention means that the researchers have to find a comparison group of low-achieving students who might represent what would have happened if those students who failed to make the promotional cutoff had not been retained. In this report, the researches do this by comparing the achievement growth of third and sixth graders whose reading test scores fell just below the promotion cutoff in 1998 and 1999, the majority of whom were retained, to the achievement growth of two comparison groups: (1) students who had reading test scores just above the test-score cutoff in those years, the majority of whom were promoted; and (2) third graders in 2000 who had similar test scores just below the test-score cutoff but who were promoted because of changes in the administration of the policy. In general, students who have test scores within a narrow range around the test-score cutoff should be more similar in terms of their underlying achievement than students with either very low scores or achievement closer to the grade level. Results from the study indicate: in the third grade little evidence that students who were retained did better than their low-achieving counterparts who were promoted was found; retained students who were placed in special education after retention were struggling during their retained year and continued to struggle; and there is no evidence that mid-year promotions either helped or harmed students' tested achievement in basic skills. This report focuses on the question: Did retaining these low-achieving students help? The answer to this question is definitely no. In the third grade, there is no evidence that retention led to greater achievement growth for two years after the promotional gate, and in the sixth grade, the study found significant evidence that retaining students under CPS's promotional policy significantly increased the likelihood of placement in special education. Further analysis, recommendations, and an interpretive summary are included."

Winters, M. A. (2012). The benefits of Florida's test-based promotion system. (Civic Report No. 68). New York, NY: Center for State and Local Leadership at the Manhattan Institute. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: "State and municipal policymakers are increasingly addressing the practice of social promotion in schools-moving children along to the next grade whether or not they have mastered the curriculum-by mandating test-based grade promotion. This paper draws conclusions about the effects of a policy limiting social promotion. To do so, it employs a methodology known as regression discontinuity, which is capable of producing causal estimates of policy effects to study the impact of Florida's test-based promotion policy on later student achievement. Under this program, students must take an exam to automatically pass from third to fourth grade (some students scoring below the automatic promotion threshold may still advance at teacher discretion). Students who are retained in third grade also receive a rigorous remediation regime aimed at improving their long-term performance. By studying the long-term performance of children who just barely passed the test, as well as those who were just barely left behind, it was possible to compare two essentially identical populations: one set of students who moved forward despite only borderline understanding of the material; and another set who stayed behind a year and received tutoring, mentoring, and other remedial interventions. On average, the students who were remediated did better academically, in both the short and long term, than those who were promoted. Tellingly, the benefits of the remediation were still apparent and substantial through the seventh grade (which is as far as the data can be tracked at this point). These results contrast with previous work cited by supporters of social promotion finding that grade retention has strong negative consequences for the student's later academic outcomes. This paper takes the view that there is considerable reason to question the validity of much of that research because most prior studies on grade retention use methods that are flawed or inadequate. Notably, these studies do not take into account 'unobserved differences' between students studied. Unobserved differences are characteristics, such as maturity level or home environment, that aren't accounted for in the researchers' datasets, but which may have an enormous bearing on student performance. The results of this study demonstrate that a test-based promotion policy structured similar to Florida's policy should be expected to improve student performance relative to a policy of social promotion. Florida's system is an example for policy makers across the country to emulate."

2. What does the research say about academic "redshirting" on future student success?

Deming, D., & Dynarski, S. (2008). The lengthening of childhood. (Working Paper 08-3). Boston, MA: Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: "Forty years ago, 96 percent of six-year-old children were enrolled in first grade or above. As of 2005, the figure was just 84 percent. The school attendance rate of six-year-olds has not decreased; rather, they are increasingly likely to be enrolled in kindergarten rather than first grade. This paper documents this historical shift. We show that only about a quarter of the change can be proximately explained by changes in school entry laws; the rest reflects 'academic redshirting,' the practice of enrolling a child in a grade lower than the one for which he is eligible. We show that the decreased grade attainment of six-year-olds reverberates well beyond the kindergarten classroom. Recent stagnation in the high school and college completion rates of young people is partly explained by their later start in primary school. The relatively late start of boys in primary school explains a small but significant portion of the rising gender gaps in high school graduation and college completion. Increases in the age of legal school entry intensify socioeconomic differences in educational attainment, since lower-income children are at greater risk of dropping out of school when they reach the legal age of school exit."

Dougan, K., & Pijanowski, J. (2011). The effects of academic redshirting and relative age on student achievement. International Journal of Educational Leadership Preparation, 6(2). Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: "Academic redshirting is the act of keeping a child out of school for an additional year before kindergarten. This practice has become prevalent in America as kindergarten standards become more rigorous. There are few examples in the literature of research that explores the differences between children who have been academically redshirted and those who were not. Based on studies about relative age effects in the classroom, the research shows that older children have higher academic achievement than younger children in the same grade. Redshirting provides a particular child with advantages in school by deeming that child one of the oldest in their class. Since most redshirted children have birthdates just before the local cut-off date, these children would be among the youngest in their class had they not been redshirted and would likely experience the negative effects of relative age. Retention does not work to give children the same benefit as redshirting because there are negative emotional impacts on a child that affect school achievement."

Range, B., Dougan, K., & Pijanowski, J. (2011). Rethinking grade retention and academic redshirting: Helping school administrators make sense of what works. International Journal of Educational Leadership Preparation, 6(2). Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: "In this article, the authors discuss two interventions deployed to remediate low performing students. The first is grade level retention in which a student is required to repeat a given grade due to lack of academic or social progress. The second is academic redshirting in which a parent voluntarily delays the entrance of her child into kindergarten to allow the child more time to grow and develop. The article has three goals: (a) to compare the predictors of students who are retained to the characteristics of students who are academically redshirted, (b) to synthesize current research regarding grade retention and academic redshirting, and as a result of this synthesis, (c) to provide educators with recommendations for practice when faced with retention or redshirting decisions."


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • 3rd grade retention

  • 3rd grade repetition

  • grade retention AND third grade

  • 3rd grade retention AND future student outcomes

  • Kindergarten redshirting

  • academic redshirting

Databases and Search Engines

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES).

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published over the last 15 years, from 2002 to present, were include in the search and review.

  • Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations.

  • Methodology: We used the following methodological priorities/considerations in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types—randomized control trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, and so forth, generally in this order, (b) target population, samples (e.g., representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected), study duration, and so forth, and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, and so forth.
This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL Region) at American Institutes for Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Midwest under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0007, administered by American Institutes for Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.