Is Retention the Right Choice for Your Child?

Let's face it: no one likes to be 'held back' or 'left behind' when it comes to almost anything. The phrases themselves carry a negative connotation. So does retention, long practiced in the United States, actually help students who have fallen behind academically? Studies show that retention might not always be the answer, or may not be an answer at all. Is it the right choice for your child?

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student retention held back repeating a grade

Best Intentions

When a student does not display the maturity or academic capability to move on to a higher grade, many teachers and parents feel it is best if that student is held back to repeat the current grade. Struggles in reading, writing and math are common red flags that a student might not be ready to tackle the tougher work of the next grade level.

This method has been utilized for over century, and has for the most part been unquestioned. Many feel that repeating a grade will give students time to mature, and going over the curriculum again will help them to 'get it.'

But this may not always be the case. In fact, studies have shown that retention might actually do more harm than good. Even the National Association of School Psychologists says retention is ineffective.

Negative Effects

Short-lived academic gains, higher dropout rates, lower self-esteem and behavioral problems are among the list of negative effects that retention can have on students.

And does retention address any outside factors that might be playing a part in the child's poor academic performance? For instance, a smart child might be affected by a change in socioeconomic status, the divorce of parents or a family death. Is it fair to assume that this child needs to repeat a grade when in fact he or she would likely benefit more from counseling or individual attention?

The most positive results seem to come from retention programs that also address any specific challenge or behavioral issues the student may be having, rather than simply having them repeat the grade with the same curriculum presented in exactly the same way.

Looking at Alternatives

So if a student shouldn't be held back but seemingly cannot move forward, what's the alternative? Maybe not much at that point, but there are ways to avoid such a situation altogether.

Some experts say that much can be done to prevent the need for retention. Improved assessment and early intervention programs could help to identify potential problems before a need for retention arises.

After school or tutoring programs can be effective in helping students who might be falling behind during the school year. Smaller classes sizes can be more conducive to learning for students who are struggling. Increased professional development, too, can improve teaching methods that could be beneficial to students who are having a hard time grasping certain elements of the curriculum.

There's also a growing advocacy for preschool programs. The idea is that students who have participated in a good preschool program are generally better prepared to enter kindergarten; this improved preparation, it is believed, can decrease the chances of falling behind later.

If retention seems inevitable, it is suggested that you have your child evaluated to find out in which areas he or she is lacking and make sure that these specific issues are addressed in the repeated grade. With enough prodding, some schools might accommodate your wishes and make sure that your child gets the attention that he or she needs to achieve social promotion.

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