This is the time of year when some parents may be wondering: Should I hold my child back a grade? It is a difficult and challenging question for any parent to grapple with.
Back in June, I wrote a post about retention, and it has been by far, the generated the most commentary, questions, and dialogue. I thought it would be helpful to write a follow up that summarizes some of the points I have been conveying to individual parents who have contacted me.
NOTE: I do not unilaterally disagree with retention. While I generally do not support retention as an intervention to help students succeed, I do believe that every child is unique with his/her own circumstances and needs. Because I do not know the intricate nuances of each child’s situation, I do not, in good conscience, attempt to provide explicit answers so much provide guidance for parents to ask the right questions, look in the right places and seek the best direction for their child.
1) Before retention is even a consideration, ask these questions:
What support has your child been receiving this year and what will be provided next year?
If my child is retained, what support would they put in place for him next year?
If my child is retained, how will the teaching be different from this year?
Who will my child’s teacher be? (NOT THE SAME TEACHER) Often times, when students repeat a grade, there’s nothing different. If you do something twice, exactly the same way, why would one expect different results?
What support has she been receiving at home or outside of school?
Did your child pass the state test?
What have her previous grade(s) teachers said in regard to your child’s academic performance? Has her academic performance in school event been an issue before?
2) One of the most common questions I have received is: Should I hold my child back in middle school? I think this is probably the hardest question for parents to grapple with and come to a decisive answer about because frankly, middle school can be one of the most challenging times for a child and a child’s family. Peer relationships take precedence over parental relationships and kids begin to care a lot more about their friends than they do about their parents. Thus when retention comes into the picture, kids are more worried about what their peers will think and about being made fun of than about the potential benefits of being retained. Unfortunately, there is no simple answer. Every child has to be considered in his/her unique situation.
3) Does your child have a learning disability? If so, how would retention serve as an intervention? The simplest definition of a learning disability is when what students seem to be able to do or show does not match what testing of their ability shows. This is called a discrepancy. There is a specific measure of the discrepancy that a child must display in order to qualify for special education services. In short, a child could have special needs if s/he is unable to line up his/her apparent ability with what s/he produces.
4) Provide whatever extra support can be provided at home and/or outside of the home. This could be one-to-one tutoring from a professional, a tutoring center, or working with your child yourself.
5) Document everything: Contact/communication with teachers. what extra support your child is receiving from school, how long he’s been receiving support, progress he’s made as a result of the support. If your school has quarterly assessments or some sort of beginning of the year and end of the year assessment such as the MAP test, see what the data says so you can use it to support your decision. You are very much within your rights as a parent to reject the teacher’s recommendation.
6) If your child is able, discuss the decision with him/her openly. While this is not a decision for your child to make, it is one that you as a family need to make together. If you do decide to retain your child, I highly recommend counseling to be included in the support services for the following year. You child needs to be supported in all aspects – social-emotional and academic.
At the end of the day, parents want to do what’s best for their child, and ultimately, I trust that the vast majority of teachers have the same intent. Working together towards this goal will help in making the decision.
Retention is a difficult decision in every situation. Doing one’s due diligence as a parent to research and consider every angle prior to making a decision is the best thing one can do. My heart goes out to all the families who are struggling with whether or not to retain their child.