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  • Writer's pictureScott for Buffalo Schools

The Pandemic & Grade Retention

June 3, 2022

In an “Investigative Post” story from January 10, 2022, it framed BPS as being neglectful for not retaining more students (having them repeat a grade) this school year.

The IP reporter begins stating: “Student achievement, already low, has suffered because of the pandemic. But the district promoted 98% of students anyway.” It’s likely true that 98% or close to this of students were promoted. The reporter leads readers to believe this is unusual or detrimental without any context. The reporter fails to include how many students are promoted or retained in previous years and how many students were promoted or retained in charter schools and suburban districts. Let’s remember, it's a global pandemic; Buffalo Public Schools are not the only district faced with the pandemic and decisions to promote or retain students.

Not once referenced in the IP piece, is the abundance of research on grade retention and its long-term impact on social-emotional functioning, academic success, and post K-12 schooling outcomes. Most research concludes that the practice of retention is not advantageous and most often it is counterproductive. It is why school districts and schools retain few students per grade level each year.

Even the corporate reform-minded Ed Trust, who's NY State Affiliate Chair is quoted in the IP piece, published a report on the ineffectiveness and harms of grade retention, especially for students of color:

"The research is clear that grade retention is not effective over time, and it is related to many negative academic, social, and emotional outcomes for students — especially students of color who have been retained. There is also clear evidence that other interventions — such as targeted intensive tutoring, expanded learning time, and supporting strong relationships between adults and students — have better outcomes for students."

With all of this said, it does not conclude or imply that no students should be ever be retained. Certainly, each case requires individualized assessment and consideration.

Larry Scott

Buffalo Board of Education


***The thoughts and opinions shared in this blog series are mine, and mine alone.***

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