It’s that time of year when parents and teachers start to question whether a struggling student should repeat their grade. If you are a parent reading this, perhaps a friend or someone at the school mentioned it to you. Now that someone brought it up, you are wondering if they are right.
Research on Grade Retention
A child might be struggling in school for any number of reasons, and retention is not guaranteed to address those reasons. Some of this has to do with the fact that grade levels are determined by birth date rather than achievement, meaning that children in the same grade may be at very different stages of development, especially in the lower elementary grades. Intuitively, it might make sense to let younger children catch up by having them repeat their grade, but what does research have to say?
1. Positive outcomes are unsupported
While there have been many research projects over the last century to determine the success rates of retention, the results are inconclusive. Overall, research suggests that students who repeat a grade are not significantly better off than if they would have been promoted to the next grade level with their classmates. Some studies found a short-term gain in achievement from retained students, but that gain faded over time. Unless the need for retention arises because a child was absent for a large portion of the year, repeating a grade with the same instruction and materials is not likely to solve the issues that caused lower performance.
In the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) report, “Position Statement on Grade Retention and Social Promotion,” it states, “The majority of studies conducted over the past four decades on the effectiveness of grade retention fail to support its efficacy in remediating academic deficits.”
2. It may lead to more problems
While research has not supported long-term benefits of retention, it has been correlated with increased social, emotional, and behavioral concerns. Children who have been retained display more problems with peer conflict, aggression, and academic motivation. They are also more likely to drop out of school. While it is not clear that retention causes these issues, it certainly does not make them better.
What You Can Do
If your child’s teacher has recommended retention, you can start by exploring the reasons why. If your child has an IEP, request an IEP meeting. If they don’t, request to meet with the student support team. When teams collaborate with openness and mutual respect, students thrive!
Here are some questions to consider:
- What interventions have been tried to increase success in the classroom?
- Is your child struggling with one subject more than others?
- How would the instructional strategies change if your child were retained?
- Would counseling or one-on-one tutoring be beneficial?
- Could extracurricular activities help or hinder your child’s success in the classroom?
- Have you tried giving your child extra support before or after school?
- Are your child’s difficulties because they test poorly? What other factors are being assessed and considered by the school?
- Are there summer school or extended day options?
- Are there things that can be done at home to help fill knowledge gaps?
Alternatives to Retention
It’s important to understand why a student has fallen behind so that you can implement the best strategy. Here are some alternatives to retention:
1. Differentiated instruction
This teaching method was essential in the days of the one-room schoolhouse. In the 1990’s, it drew renewed focus because of Carol Ann Tomlinson’s book, The Differentiated Classroom. Students have different developmental needs, and differentiated instruction honors those differences. Teachers may differentiate instruction by offering choices for how children can show their knowledge. These choices may be related to the content, process, product, or environment.
2. Interventions at school
Typically, students need extra support in a few subject areas, but not all. Interventions that include small group work can help focus attention on a learning deficit and help a child get back up to speed. Progress toward goals should be closely monitored.
3. Tutoring at home
In some cases, tutoring may be the best alternative to retention. Some students do well with the individualized attention and exposure to different teaching methods. Ask the teacher for specific work your child can do from home to help remediate skills that are weak.
It’s important to collaborate with your child’s school to evaluate all options that may help your child succeed. If you would like additional support with the decision-making process, please contact Psyched Services for a free consultation.