The Future of Education

Edition 14

Accepted Abstracts

The Impact of Grade Repetition in Student Performance in Reading Literacy

Anabela Serrão, Instituto de Avaliação Educativa, I.P. (Portugal)


Since 2000 that PISA has been provided information of the Portuguese school system in what concerns the competences of the Portuguese 15-years-old students. From 2000 to 2006 the Portuguese students performed modestly in all three competences evaluated: reading literacy, mathematics literacy and scientific literacy. However in 2009 Portugal results have increased reaching the OECD average in reading literacy and so far the results have remained at the OECD average. A first exploration of the 2009 PISA database showed a big change in the distribution of the Portuguese students by grade. The typical grade of a 15-year-old student in Portugal is the 10th grade, the first grade of ISCED 3, although in Portugal in 2006 almost 50% of the students who participated in PISA were in the 9th grade or less. And these students have been affected by the phenomenon of grade repetition and some of them have been repeating the same grade more than once. From 2006 to 2009 Portugal has made an effort to reduce the high grade repetition rates in all levels of education from 19.1% in ISCED 2 and 30.6% in ISCED 3 in 2006 to 13.8% in ISCED 2 and 18, 7% in ISCED 3 in 2009. The problem of grade repetition in Portugal is not only due to the high rates, one of the highest in the OECD countries [4], but also this phenomenon is even more serious because often a student who repeats a year tends to repeat once again entering into what is known as a cycle of repetition. This difficult the students recovery and progress in education and before 2006, when several educational measures were implemented, these cycles of repetition were the major cause of drop-outs from school [1][2][3]. The PISA Student Questionnaire collects information about this phenomenon in two different ways: one indirectly, asking students in what grade they are and other directly, asking students how many times they repeat a grade. With this analysis we intend to answer the following questions:

(a) What is the association between grade repetition and reading performance (and its sub-domains)?

(b) How can we characterize grade repetition in Portugal compared to other countries that participated in PISA 2000, 2009 and 2018?

(c) What are the characteristics of students retained in Portugal in terms of cultural and socio-economic status, gender, type and location of school, immigrant status, household income and expenditure on education?

(d) What is the effect of being retained on the student's performance in reading? And how it evolved from 2000 to 2018?

Keywords: student assessment, grade repetition, international assessment, PISA.


  1. Conboy, J. (2011). “Retention and science performance in Portugal as evidenced  by PISA”. in Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences 12 (2011) 311-321, Elsevier
  2. Brophy, J. (2006). Grade repetition. Retrieved from
  3. Xia, N., & Kirby, S. N. (2009). Retaining students in grade: A literature review of the effects of retention on students’ academic and nonacademic outcomes. (Technical Report TR-678-NYCDOE).
  4. OECD (2011). PISA IN FOCUS, 2011/6 (July). Paris: OECD

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