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July 23, 2013

10 Things You Didn't Know About "Mandatory Retention" Laws

mandatory-retention-stakeholder-newsletterAccording to the U.S. Department of Education, only 34 percent of fourth graders nationwide can read with proficiency. Across the country, state legislatures are searching for ways to improve childhood literacy. Most are focusing on third grade – the crucial year when students transition from learning to read and begin reading to learn. Many states have adopted so-called “mandatory retention” laws that require schools to hold back third graders who are not reading at a certain level of proficiency and who do not meet other criteria for exemptions.

This is a very important issue for Reading Partners, as we believe that the best policy includes early identification of struggling readers and effective, research-based intervention to improve their reading skills. Here are 10 things you might not know about these laws:

  1. Thirty-two (32) states and the District of Columbia have legislation in place to improve reading proficiency. Sixteen (16) states and the District of Columbia have mandatory retention laws for students failing to meet proficiency standards.
  2. Most states have based their retention laws on Florida’s, which was first implemented in 2003. The first year Florida’s law was implemented, 21,799 third graders students were held back for scoring below proficiency on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.
  3. Florida’s retention law provides schools with more than $130 million dollars annually (with extra support directed to districts with more students reading below grade level) to help them improve student literacy.
  4. Results in Florida have received mixed reviews, with supporters and detractors pointing to conflicting reports. A recent study compared students who just barely passed the reading test with students who just barely failed the test (and were held back). It showed that by seventh grade, those students who had been held back were outperforming their counterparts who had been promoted.
  5. A retention law being considered by South Carolina legislators would mandate 90 minutes of intensive daily reading instruction for students after they’ve been held back.
  6. This year, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback renewed calls for lawmakers in his state to pass a bill that would require flunking first graders not reading at grade level.
  7. In Indiana, third graders who don’t pass the IREAD-3, a statewide reading comprehension test, are given one opportunity to retake the test or face retention.
  8. In April, Mississippi’s legislature sent Governor Phil Bryant a bill that bans the promotion of students based on age and other social promotion factors and students whose reading deficiency is not remedied by the end of third grade.
  9. A 1995 study by researcher Russell Rumberger found that students retained in grades 1-8 were four times more likely to drop out between grades 8-10 than students who were not retained, even after controlling for socioeconomic status, school performance, and a host of background and school factors. In fact, grade retention is one of the most powerful predictors of high school dropout.
  10. When researchers asked sixth grade students in a 2002 study to rate life events they feared most, being held back was cited as more frightening than losing a parent or going blind.


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