Repeating Grades in School: Current Practice and Research Evidence
The decade of the 1980s saw a dramatic rise in the number of children asked to repeat kindergarten. In districts with special programs for "unready" kindergarteners, as many as 50 percent are held back. An extra year before first grade is offered in a variety of different forms: transition classrooms before first grade, developmental kindergarten before kindergarten, and straight repeating of kindergarten. According to its advocates, kindergarten retention is different from retention in later grades because it is intended to percent school failure before it occurs.
Controlled studies do not support the benefits claimed for extra-year programs, however, and negative side effects occur just as they do for retention in later grades. In a review of 16 controlled studies on the effects of extra-year programs, the predominant finding is one of no difference (Shepard 1989). For example, when researchers follow extra-year children to the end of first grade or as far as fifth grade and compare their performance to unready children whose parents refused the extra year, the extra-year children perform no better academically despite being a year older for their grade. The conclusion of no benefit holds true even for studies where children were selected on the basis of immaturity rather than for academic risk, and even where a special transition curriculum was offered rather than repeating kindergarten.
Although the majority of teachers believe that retention in kindergarten does not carry a social stigma "if handled properly," extra-year children are more likely to have lower self-concepts and poorer attitudes toward school compared to controls.