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U of M study first to report percentage of students repeating grades by state

November 14, 2012

Between three and four percent of public school first grade students were held back after the 2008-2009 academic year - an average of about one per classroom across the U. S. - according to a first-of-its-kind University of Minnesota study recently published in Educational Researcher.

Altogether, about 447,000 public school students in grades 1 through 8 were made to repeat their grade after that academic year.

The study, the first to use the U.S. Department of Education’s Common Core of Data (CCD) for this purpose, reports grade retention (or non-promotion) rates for each state and for the entire country from 2002-2003 through 2008-2009.

“We have not previously had a reliable and valid way to know how often children are repeating grades in each state or nationally,” said John Robert Warren, co-author of the study and U of M sociology professor. “The fact that so many students are retained - at some expense to their school districts and to the students themselves - should motivate additional research on this topic.”

Although retention rates are typically highest in first grade, this is not the case in each state. One important finding of the study is that patterns of grade retention rates differ significantly from state to state and over time.

Minnesota’s first grade retention rate is less than one percent, falling on the lower end of the spectrum.

Previous estimates have relied on data from single cohorts of students, which do not allow for comparisons over time; from smaller national samples, which do not allow for comparisons across states; or from state administrative data, which also do not allow for valid comparisons across states.

“This is a first step toward understanding trends in retention rates over time and toward making valid comparisons across states,” said U of M sociology graduate student Jim Saliba, a co-author on the study.

The full study, published in the Educational Researcher, is available at:

For interviews with Professor Warren, please contact Steve Henneberry, University News Service,, 612-624-1690.

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