The School Counselor and Retention, Social Promotion and Age-Appropriate Placement
(Adopted 2006, revised 2012, 2017, 2023)
ASCA PositionSchool counselors recognize that decisions on student retention, promotion and placement are best made when the student’s needs are at the forefront of the decision and after considering multiple factors. School counselors also recognize that retention and social promotion decisions have a disproportionate impact on students from culturally, linguistically and otherwise diverse backgrounds. School counselors oppose laws or policies requiring social promotion or retention and advocate for laws and policies that consider individual student needs regarding age-appropriate placement.
The RationaleThe evidence about the academic benefits of grade retention is mixed, but the effects on the psychosocial outcomes of children who are retained are mostly negative (Cockx et al., 2018; Goos et al., 2021; Hughes et al., 2017; Pipa & Peixoto, 2022; Valbuena et al., 2021). Even though some states and school districts have instituted laws or policies requiring mandatory retention or promotion of students who do not achieve academic standards, other interventions, such as transitional classes, frequent progress monitoring, peer tutoring and individualized interventions delivered through a multitiered system of supports, show more academic promise for students who have difficulty learning (ASCA, 2021; Peguero et al., 2021).
Research shows negative, long-term effects from retention with a disproportionate impact on marginalized populations. Students who are retained are more likely to have adverse outcomes, including dropping out of school and having diminished postsecondary aspirations (Cockx et al., 2018; Hughes et al., 2018), having lower socioeconomic status and more likely to be eligible for government assistance (Goos et al., 2021), and are even at higher risk for future criminal behavior (Eren et al., 2022). Pipa and Peixoto (2022) found that retained students have lower task orientation, sense of school belonging and valuing, hypothesizing that this could lower motivation, which begins a cascade of negative outcomes. Grade-retention policies have a disproportionate effect on students from marginalized populations (de Brey et al., 2019; Lavy et al., 2012; Peguero et al., 2021; Pipa & Peixoto, 2022; Valbuena et al., 2021; Xiang & Chiu, 2022).
Social promotion is defined as the practice of passing students along from grade to grade with peers even if the students have not satisfied academic requirements or met performance standards at designated grade levels. While social promotion is seen as the only alternative to grade retention, there are more effective alternatives to both (Jacobs & Mantiri, 2022). Although social promotion is intended to avoid the negative effects of grade retention and promote self-esteem, research on social promotion mostly shows that it is no more effective or less harmful than grade retention (McMahon, 2018). It can also lower the student’s or others’ expected standards of student achievement and/or can give students and their parents a false sense of accomplishment.
Neither retention nor social promotion has been proven effective in remediation of learning difficulties or in maintaining academic gains (Goos et al., 2021; McMahon, 2018). In cases where students have academic difficulty, early intervention is crucial, as well as is differentiating instruction to help students reach their potential. Additionally, improved teaching strategies, curriculum enhancements and focused, evidenced-based interventions have been demonstrated to be effective for student success and are less costly (Peguero et al., 2021).
The School Counselor's RoleSchool counselors have a professional and ethical obligation to protect students from practices hindering academic, career and social/emotional development and advocate for preventive, proactive alternatives to such practices (ASCA, 2022a; ASCA, 2023a). School counselors are aware of the detrimental effects of grade retentions and social promotions on students, schools and the community and advocate for the repeal of laws or policies promoting mandatory retentions or social promotion. School counselors share educational and social research with students, families, the community and decision makers so the decisions related to promotion and retention are made in the students’ best interest.
When laws and/or policies require social promotion or retention, school counselors refer to the ASCA Ethical Standards for School Counselors (ASCA, 2022a) to support students’ academic, career and social/emotional development. School counselors advocate for alternate interventions first, before recommending retention of a student.
School counselors promote alternatives to retention, social promotion and age-appropriate placement by supporting and advocating for the following:
- Research-based educational reforms that deliver best teaching and school counseling practice (ASCA, 2022)
- Comprehensive school counseling programs in all schools to address academic, career and social/emotional development (ASCA, 2023b)
- Early identification using available data to identify strengths and deficits to provide appropriate evidenced-based interventions (ASCA, 2023a)
- A team approach to decision-making that includes school counselors, teachers, administrators, student support workers and families to determine appropriate educational interventions (ASCA, 2021)
- Career and technical education opportunities for middle and high school students (ASCA, 2018)
- Literacy strategies to improve reading for all students
- Funding for pre-kindergarten programs taught by credentialed teachers (Bakken et al., 2017)
- Extended school year for remediation and curriculum enhancement for struggling learners and under-challenged learners
- Reduced class size
- Increased family engagement and volunteer involvement in schools (ASCA, 2022b)
- Education of families on research-based reading strategies to assist their children in developing academic skills
SummaryResearch shows the negative impact retention and social promotion can have on student success. School counselors collaborate with students, families, teachers and educational leaders to consider the individual student’s needs when making decisions on retention and social promotion and advocate to change laws or policies promoting mandatory retentions or social promotion.
ReferencesAmerican School Counselor Association. (ASCA) (2018). The School Counselor and Career and Technical Education [Position Statement]. https://schoolcounselor.org/Standards-Positions/Position-Statements/ASCA-Position-Statements/The-School-Counselor-and-Career-and-Technical-Educ
American School Counselor Association. (2022a). ASCA ethical standards for school counselors. https://schoolcounselor.org/About-School-Counseling/Ethical-Responsibilities/ASCA-Ethical-Standards-for-School-Counselors-(1)
American School Counselor Association. (ASCA) (2023a). The School Counselor and Identification, Prevention, and Intervention of Behaviors That are Harmful and Place Students At-Risk [Position Statement]. https://schoolcounselor.org/Standards-Positions/Position-Statements/ASCA-Position-Statements/The-School-Counselor-and-the-Identification,-Preve
American School Counselor Association. (ASCA) (2021). The School Counselor and Multitiered Systems of Support [Position Statement]. https://schoolcounselor.org/Standards-Positions/Position-Statements/ASCA-Position-Statements/The-School-Counselor-and-Multitiered-System-of-Sup
American School Counselor Association. (2023b). The School Counselor and School Counseling Programs [Position Statement]. https://schoolcounselor.org/Standards-Positions/Position-Statements/ASCA-Position-Statements/The-School-Counselor-and-School-Counseling-Program
American School Counselor Association (ASCA) (2022b). The School Counselor and School-Family-Community Partnerships [Position Statement]. https://schoolcounselor.org/Standards-Positions/Position-Statements/ASCA-Position-Statements/The-School-Counselor-and-School-Family-Community-P
Bakken, L., Brown, N., & Downing, B. (2017). Early childhood education: The long-term benefits. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 31(2), 255-269.
Cockx, B., Picchio, M., & Baert, S. (2018). Modeling the effects of grade retention in high school. Journal of Applied Econometrics, 34(3), 403-424.
de Brey, C., Musu, L., McFarland, J., Wilkinson-Flicker, S., Diliberti, M., Zhang, A., Brandstetter, C., & Wang, X. (2019). Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Groups 2018 (NCES 2019-038). U.S. Department of Education. National Center for Education Statistics.
Eren, O., Lovenheim, M., & Mocan, H. (2022). The effect of grade retention on adult crime: Evidence from a test-based promotion policy. Journal of Labor Economics, 40(2), 361-395.
Goos, M., Pipa, J., & Peixoto, F. (2021). Effectiveness of grade retention: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Educational Research Review, 34, 100410. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.edurev.2021.100401
Hughes, J. N., Cao, Q., West, S. C., Alle Smith, P., & Cerda, C. (2017). Effect of retention in elementary grades on dropping out of school early. Journal of School Psychology, 65, 11-27.
Hughes, J. N., West, S. G., Kim, H., & Bauer, S. S. (2018). Effect of early grade retention on school completion: A prospective study. Journal of Educational Psychology, 110(7), 974–991.
Jacobs, J., & Mantiri, O. (2022). Grade retention and social promotion dichotomy: A theoretical and conceptual analysis. Journal of Innovation in Educational and Cultural Research, 3(2), 226-233
Lavy, V., Paserman, M. D., & Schlosser, A. (2012). Inside the black box of ability peer effects: Evidence from variation in the proportion of low achievers in the classroom. The Economic Journal, 122(559), 208–237.
McMahon, T. (2018). Despite our best intention: Students relate how social promotion hurt them and what changes they believe will help them. Interchange, 49(4), 499-519.
Peguero, A. A., Varela, K. S., Marchbanks III, M. P. T., Blake, J., & Eason, J. M. (2021). School punishment and education: Racial/ethnic disparities with grade retention and the role of urbanicity. Urban Education 56(2), 228–260.
Pipa, J., & Peixoto, F. (2022). One step back or one step forward? Effects of grade retention and school retention composition on Portuguese students’ psychosocial outcomes using PISA 2018 data. Sustainability, 14(24), 16573. https://doi.org/10.3390/su142416573
Valbuena, J., Mediavilla, M., Choi, & Gil, M. (2021). Effects of grade retention policies: A literature review of empirical studies applying causal inference. Journal of Economic Surveys, 35(2), 408-451.
Xiang, N., & Chiu, S. (2022). The school matters: Hong Kong secondary schools’ grade-retention composition, students’ educational performance, and educational inequality. School Effectiveness School Improvement, 1, 1-18.
Internet Resource Links
Assessment Reform Network. http://fairtest.org
Brown, B., & Forcheh, N. (2014). Strategies to achieve congruence between student chronological age and grade placement in the compulsory phase of education in Botswana. Journal of Education and Learning, 3(3). https://doi.org/10.5539/jel.v3n3p76
National Association of School Psychologists. (2022). Position statement: Grade retention and social promotion. https://www.nasponline.org/assets/Documents/Research%20and%20Policy/Position%20Statements/GradeRetentionandSocialPromotion.pdf
Riley, R., Smith, M. S., Peterson, T. K. (1999). Taking responsibility for ending social promotion: A guide for educators and state and local leaders. U.S. Department of Education. http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED430319.pdf