Predictors of early grade retention among children in the United States

R. S. Byrd, M. L. Weitzman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background. Despite increasing concerns regarding school readiness, little is known about child health correlates of early school failure among the general child population. The results of this study, conducted to investigate health and social factors associated with early grade retention in a nationally representative sample of children in the United States, are reported here. Design. Analyses of data derived from interviews with parents of 9996 children ages 7 to 17 years who participated in the Child Health Supplement to the 1988 National Health Interview Survey. Main Outcome Measures. History of repeating kindergarten or first grade. Results. Nationally, 7.6% of children repeated kindergarten or first grade. In a logistic regression model, factors independently associated with increased risk of grade retention were: poverty [Odds Ratio (OR) 1.7, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.4, 2.1], male gender (OR 1.5, CI 1.3, 1.9), low maternal education (OR 1.4, CI 1.1, 1.8); deafness (OR 1.9, CI 1.4, 2.6), speech defects (OR 1.7, CI 1.1, 2.6), low birth weight (OR 1.6, CI 1.2, 2.2), enuresis (OR 1.6, CI 1.1, 2.2), and exposure to household smoking (OR 1.4, CI 1.1, 1.7). High maternal education (OR 0.6 CI 0.4, 0.9) and residence with both biological parents at age 6 years (OR 0.7, CI 0.6, 0.9) were independently associated with a decreased risk of retention. Recurrent otitis media, black race, and low maternal age, although associated with early grade retention in bivariate analyses, were not independently associated with grade retention in a model that controls for these other factors and for the age cohort of the child. Although omitted from the above predictive model because of uncertainty about its temporal relation to early grade retention in this dataset, behavior problems at the time of interview have a strong independent association (OR 1.9, CI 1.5, 2.5) with prior early retention. Conclusions. This is the first study that uses national data to investigate how health and social factors individually and collectively contribute to early grade retention. It demonstrates that early retention is common, that a number of extremely common child health problems are independently associated with it, and that the magnitude of the heightened risk associated with these problems is similar to that of many of the well-recognized and difficult to change family and social risk factors for early retention. The successful implementations of Pub L 99-457 (The Education for All Handicapped Children Act Amendments of 1986) services in communities nationwide, and the improvement in the educational performance of large numbers of children will be facilitated by pediatricians' advocacy and surveillance for problems that place children at risk for educational failure, and by effective referral to and collaboration with nonpediatric child and family services.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)481-487
Number of pages7
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1994


  • Predictors of early school failure
  • grade retention
  • risk factors
  • school age

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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