Max Rady College of Medicine

Concept: Continuing Student / Grade Repetition

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Concept Description

Last Updated: 2016-04-05


    This concept briefly discusses the issue of continuing students (also known as grade repetition and grade retention) and how this is defined and measured in MCHP research. The concept also identifies some of the MCHP research that has investigated continuing students / grade repetition / grade retention and their findings, and provides links to relevant sections within this research.

    Retaining or "holding back" students in a grade is a contentious issue. Contrary to the suggestion that it is harmful to advance or promote students with academic or adjustment difficulties to the next grade, there may be more harmful consequences related to retaining students in a grade. Retained students are more likely to drop out of school than their non-retained peers. In addition, retained students who graduate from high school are less likely to enroll in post-secondary education than their non-retained peers with similar socioeconomic status (SES) and achievement levels (Guevremont, Roos, & Brownell, 2007).

    Note: This concept used to be titled "Grade Retention", but is now titled Continuing Student / Grade Repetition based on the following explanation / definition in Martens et al. (2010)
    ... "schools and school divisions in Manitoba no longer use the term 'grade retention' to describe students who are enrolled in the same grade for two consecutive years. Instead, the term 'continuing student' is used to describe students who have not acquired the minimum expectations/outcomes to proceed to the next grade level, and are continuing in the program at that grade level for part or all of the next school year."

Definition and Measurement

    The definition of continuing student (see above) used in Martens et al. (2010) is similar to the definition for the term "grade repetition" used in Brownell et al. (2012). This idea of continuing student / grade repetition can be operationalized by identifying students in the Education - Enrollment, Marks and Assessments (STS/ICAB) data who are registered (enrolled) in the same grade level for two consecutive years.

    In Guevremont et al. (2007), they described two additional methods that researchers use to identify the possible retention of students, along with issues when using these methods.

1. Surveys of Parents or Students Regarding Grade Retention

    Surveys that ask parents or students about grade retention may underestimate retention rates because parents and students may want to prevent potential negative impressions that they may feel accompany communication of grade retention.

2. Modal Age of a Grade as a Proxy for Grade Retention

    The modal age for a given grade is the age of most students in that grade. Modal age as a proxy for grade retention may overestimate retention rates because it does not account for students older than the modal age when they first enroll in school (see the Birth / Grade Cohorts concept section titled Age-Appropriate Grade Placement ). For example, the modal age for Grade 9 is 14-years-old. Although not all students would be 14-years-old in Grade 9, there are more Grade 9 students who are 14-years-old than are students of other ages. If modal age is used as a proxy for grade retention, any students who are over 14-years-old in Grade 9 would be identified as retained students, even if they had not actually been retained (i.e., if they entered school late).

    MCHP researchers followed a birth / grade cohort who entered Kindergarten in 1998/1999. They identified those too old for the grade (Kindergarten), and followed the cohort for the next four years to identify children subsequently retained. The accuracy of "modal age for grade" to measure grade retention increases with grade because the number of students who have been retained accumulates with each grade. This is because the number of students retained increases and the number of students who entered Kindergarten late either remained the same or decreased (due to moving out of province or leaving the grade cohort due to grade retention).

    Although using the modal age of a grade is not an accurate proxy for grade retention for the earlier grades, it is an accurate proxy for later grades. Only 29.30% of children in Kindergarten and 59.16% of children in Grade 1, who were above the modal age for their grade, were accurately classified as retained students. However, over 80% of students in Grades 9 and above, who were above the modal age for their grade, were accurately classified as retained students. See Table 4, on page 17 of the article by Guevremont et al. (2007) for more information about the accuracy of using modal age of a grade as a proxy for grade retention.

MCHP Research and Findings

    The following sections provide additional information on the MCHP research and findings related to continuing students / grade repetition / grade retention.

Brownell et al. (2004)

    In the on-line deliverable Manitoba Child Health Atlas 2004 by Brownell et al. (2004), they investigated grade repetition and grade retention for students in Kindergarten to grade 8 from 1997/98 to 2002/03.

    For more information, please see the section titled Education - Enrollment in the on-line version of this report. This includes graphs and pdf documents for :

    • Rate of Students with One or More Repeats of a Grade from K to Grade 8 by Region, 1997/98 to 2002/03
    • Retention Rates by Grades K to 8 in the Years 1997/98 to 2002/03 for Winnipeg; and
    • Retention Rates by Grades K to 8 in the Years 1997/98 to 2002/03 for Non-Winnipeg

Martens et al. (2010)

    In the MCHP deliverable Profile of Metis Health Status and Healthcare Utilization in Manitoba: A Population-Based Study, by Martens et al. (2010), they investigated the retention rate from kindergarten to Grade 8 of students retained at least once during their progress from Kindergarten to Grade 8, i.e., children that are not progressing through the school system as expected. This analysis includes children enrolled in Kindergarten to Grade 8 in academic years 2000/01 to 2005/06 with a follow–up period in 2006/07 for enrollments in 2005/06.

    They found that provincially, the rate of retention at least once between Kindergarten to Grade 8 is statistically higher for Metis children compared to all other Manitoban children (4.6% vs. 2.8%).

    For more information, please read section 16.1 Retention Rates from Kindergarten to Grade 8 in the deliverable. This includes key findings from the report as well as illustrations of retention rates for Metis and all other Manitobans by RHA, Metis Region and Winnipeg Community Areas.

Brownell et al. (2012)

    In the MCHP deliverable How are Manitoba's Children Doing?, by Brownell et al. (2012), researchers followed continuing students in Kindergarten through Grade 8 in two 5-year periods: 2000/01-2004/05 and 2004/05-2008/09. The rates were based on students who repeated at least one grade. They found there was a statistically significant decrease (3.5 to 2.5) in the percent of continuing students in Kindergarten through Grade 8 in the aggregate regions of Manitoba (Figure 5.10) .

    All urban and rural income quintiles showed statistically significant decreases in the number of continuing students over time with the exception of the rural region, R2. However, there is a significant SES gradient across income quintiles in the rural and urban areas of Manitoba in both time periods, with the number of continuing students decreasing with increases in income quintile. This inequity is particularly exaggerated in urban areas, with children from lower income areas more likely to repeat a grade (Figure 5.11 and 5.12).

    The percentage of continuing students in Manitoba in 2000/01-2004-05 was 3.5%, lower than the national average of 7.2% as reported by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

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  • Brownell M, Chartier M, Santos R, Ekuma O, Au W, Sarkar J, MacWilliam L, Burland E, Koseva I, Guenette W. How are Manitoba's Children Doing? Winnipeg, MB: Manitoba Centre for Health Policy, 2012. [Report] [Summary] [Updates and Errata] [Additional Materials] (View)
  • Brownell M, Roos NP, Fransoo R, Guevremont A, MacWilliam L, Derksen S, Dik N, Bogdanovic B, Sirski M. How Do Educational Outcomes Vary With Socioeconomic Status? Key Findings from the Manitoba Child Health Atlas 2004. Winnipeg, MB: Manitoba Centre for Health Policy, 2004. [Report] [Summary] [Additional Materials] (View)
  • Guevremont A, Roos NP, Brownell M. Predictors and consequences of grade retention: Examining data from Manitoba, Canada. Can J School Psychol 2007;22(1):50-67. [Abstract] (View)
  • Martens PJ, Bartlett J, Burland E, Prior H, Burchill C, Huq S, Romphf L, Sanguins J, Carter S, Bailly A. Profile of Metis Health Status and Healthcare Utilization in Manitoba: A Population-Based Study. Winnipeg, MB: Manitoba Centre for Health Policy, 2010. [Report] [Summary] [Updates and Errata] [Additional Materials] (View)


  • education
  • Educational Measurement
  • socioeconomic status

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