Promotion vs. Retention: Assessing Student Performance

Assessing Student Performance

Snapshot: When holding a student back a year may mean she drops out of school, should her teachers promote her to the next grade level - even if they don't believe she's mastered the skills she'll need to succeed?




  • Justice in Schools has prodcued a new multimedia case study based on 'Promotion vs. Retention.' Our new multimedia case study is now freely available online. Click here or on the image to the right to view the case. Although you will need to create an account to use the multimedia case study, access to the the case is being offered free of charge through Spring '21. If you're interested in using the case with a group (for example, a class or a professional development workshop), please consider contacting us for some additional information + technical and pedagogical support. 

  • Interested in leading a case discussion with Spanish language speakers? Please see our new Spanish translation of this case / ¿Estás interesado en liderar una discusión de caso con hispanohablantes? Consulte nuestra nueva traducción al español de este caso: "¿Repetir o pasar de curso?", translated by Ana Romero-Iribas (Universidad Rey Juan Carlos).


Case Description: Things start seeming to click for Adahuaris during her 8th grade year. Thanks to her own tremendous effort and the dedication of her teachers, Ada has spent hours after school each week catching up to where she needs to be. By the end of the academic year, however, it isn’t clear that her hard work will be enough to get her up to grade level and eligible for promotion to the next grade level. Although Ada would have the time she needed to master the 8th grade standards, given the statistics for over-age students being retained during middle school, not moving onto 9th grade with the rest of her class may well mean that Ada ends up dropping out of school entirely. What should her teachers do? Promote her despite her not having achieved anything close to grade level? Or hold her back for another year, effectively rolling the dice that she’ll stay on her upward trajectory against the odds?

This case centers on the dilemmas teachers face in making decisions about promotion and retention. How do teachers balance professional integrity with their duty to support their most vulnerable students? How do they make sure they treat all of their students with all of their different needs fairly? Especially as numerous states have started to reevaluate their promotion and retention policies, these issues are especially important for teachers as well as school leaders and policymakers to grapple with.

See also: Assessment, Policy, K-12, K-8