Hit with a Recommendation for Grade Retention? Consider the Alternatives

For students who are experiencing academic, behavioral or social/emotional difficulties at school, neither repeating the same instruction another year nor moving to the next grade provides them with the support they need to improve academically and socially. Grade retention in our country has increased in the past 25 years despite the fact that research failed to support any benefits. At least 2 million U.S. students are held back every year. Schools around our country have adopted early grade retention as an intervention strategy for children demonstrating academic or behavioral problems. However, longitudinal studies have given us plenty of evidence of negative effects of Kindergarten retention on academic learning during the repeated year. While temporary gains are noted during the year the student is retained, that achievement gains decline two years to three years after retention. Eventually, these students perform worse than students that were not retained.

Besides poor reading skills, students consider rate retention as:

  • One of the most stressful life events, similar to a loss of a loved one, such as a parent
  • They are likely to experience poor peer interactions
  • Come to dislike school
  • Demonstrate behavior problems
  • Demonstrate poor self concept
  • More likely to drop out of school

The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) encourages schools to consider a wide array of well-researched, evidence-based, effective and responsive strategies instead of retention or social promotion.

Strategies that can be implemented besides retention include:

  • Specialized instruction with sequential programs such as The Wilson Reading System, or The Read Naturally Program should be considered.
  • Equitable opportunities for students from diverse backgrounds should be provided to learn in school and out of school.
  • Frequent progress monitoring and evaluation of interventions used is essential so that informed decisions regarding a student’s needs are made.
  • Universal screening for academic, behavioral and social/emotional domains should also be considered
  • Make sure that the instruction provided is responsive to student’ needs, and that it promotes higher order thinking skills.
  • Provide high quality, focused instruction, with frequent feedback to students on their performance.
  • Provide more intensive, one-on-one instruction when necessary, if progress is not made
  • Provide professional development for teachers to understand student’s learning needs, and opportunities for them to observe effective teaching practices for students’ specific learning challenges.
  • Teach students learning strategies to make them more active learners and help them learn how to learn and how to use what they have learned, to solve problems and be successful.
  • The University of Kansas, Center for Research and Learning provides a well-designed scope and sequence of strategy instruction divided into three strands, categories, of skills. For example, if reading is the problem you want the child to build his/her phonemic awareness , letter sound identification, comprehend what they’re reading, acquire vocabulary, understand the structure of text, use visual imagery, be able to summarize what he reads in his own words, and draw inferences.
  • Opportunities for at risk students through extended day/year programs should be made available for all students.
  • Provide high quality preschool programs, particularly in low income communities so children have the readiness skills needed when they enter kindergarten. Studies showed that students who learn prior to school entrance, demonstrate lower rates of grade retention, special education placement and dropout.

Retention is an expensive intervention with questionable benefits and potential harm to the child. When retention is necessary it should be for an intensive and highly individualized intervention plan, and frequent monitoring for the maximum benefit to the student. As a parent you are in the driver’s seat to get all the documented information and reasoning from your child’s school, and ultimately make the final decision for your child’s best interest.

What can you, as a parent, do to prevent retention?

  • As parents you need to supervise your child’s homework in the early grades and it’s important to work with teachers to address the needs of your child to complete homework, particularly if assignments include content that your child does not understand. This helps teachers provide more appropriate instruction, and learn more about your child’s learning style.
  • Make certain that your child, gets plenty of sleep, eats a nutritious breakfast, comes to school on time, and receives appropriate medical care when necessary.
  • If your child misses a lot of school for health issues, physical or emotional, or your family has had frequent moves, divorce, abuse, loss of job, etc make sure that information is taken into consideration when retention is considered.
  • As a parent you are to serve as your child’s advocate, closely monitor his/her progress and make sure the teacher knows his/her strengths and areas of weakness that should be targeted for intervention. Stay involved in your children’s education and don’t hesitate to ask what intervention efforts were implemented and how effectiveness has been measured. You are entitled to that date.
  • If you feel that the school cannot provide the intensity of services that you child need research community resources available, such as tutoring programs, mental health programs that promote the social emotional adjustment of children which in turn can be effective in facilitating their academic performance as well

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