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Being “Held Behind” Can Disrupt the Behaviors of other Classmates

Update Date: Mar 01, 2014 10:46 AM EST

When children fail to pass a school grade, they are required to repeat the same year until their grades improve. Even though retention could be detrimental to the child, a new study headed by researchers from Duke University found that retention negatively affected the child's classmates. The researchers reported that students who had a 'held back' classmate were more likely to develop delinquent behaviors in comparison to students who did not have a classmate who was repeating the grade.

"The decision to retain students has consequences for the whole school community," said lead author, Clara Muschkin, an associate director of the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy. "That wider effect is an issue worth considering as we debate this policy."

For this study, the researchers examined 79, 314 middle school students from 334 schools in North Carolina. The students were all in the seventh grade. The researchers used data provided by the state's public school system to see how many students were held back. The researchers reported that even after they accounted for factors such as socioeconomic composition and parents' educational status, the presence of an older classmate who was held back affected the behavior of the other students.

Muschkin, who worked with Elizabeth Glennie and Audrey Beck, calculated that if 20 percent of the seventh graders were older than their classmates due to retention, the likelihood that the other students would commit an infraction or get suspended spiked by 200 percent. The researchers found this increased percentage for both white and black girls and boys. However, the researchers noted that the increased risk of developing disciplinary behaviors were particularly high for white boys and for all girls.

"This finding took us by surprise. These two groups appear to be a bit more affected than others by the influence of older peers," Muschkin said according to the press release. "There's a strong relationship here that we think is likely to be causal."

The researchers stated that in order to explain why these two groups had higher risks, more research would need to be conducted. The study, "Peer Contexts: Do Old for Grade and Retained Peers Influence Student Behavior and Suspensions in Middle School?" was published in the Teachers' College Records.

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