Effect of early grade retention on school completion: A prospective study

Jan N. Hughes, Stephen G. West, Hanjoe Kim, Shelby S. Bauer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


This 14-year prospective study investigated the effect of retention in Grades 1-5 on high school completion (diploma, GED, or drop out). Participants were 734 (52.7% males) ethnically diverse, academically at-risk students recruited from Texas schools into the study when they were in first grade (mean age = 6.57). Propensity score weighting successfully equated the 256 retained students and the 478 students continuously promoted students on 65 covariates assessed in Grade 1. At the end of 14 years, 477 had earned a diploma, 21 had obtained a GED, 110 had dropped out, and 126 were missing school completion status. Using multinomial logistic regression with high school graduation as the reference outcome, retention led to a significant increase in the likelihood of dropping out of high school (odds ratio = 2.61), above students' propensity to be retained and additional covariates. The contrast between graduation and GED outcomes was not significant. A significant Retention × Ethnicity × Gender interaction was obtained: The negative effect of retention was strongest for African American and Hispanic girls. Even though grade retention in the elementary grades does not harm students in terms of their academic achievement or educational motivation at the transition to high school, retention increases the odds that a student will drop out of school before obtaining a high school diploma.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)974-991
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Educational Psychology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Oct 2018


  • Drop out
  • Grade retention
  • High school completion
  • Propensity score analyses
  • Prospective methodology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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