"I have a hard decision to make regarding holding my 9th grade son back a year in school. He has done very poorly this year (mostly Ds and Fs). His teacher is recommending that he repeat the grade. What are your thoughts?"
I don’t recommend it! Unfortunately, repeating a grade may have even worse consequences for a student who is doing poorly in school. Research studies suggest overwhelmingly that retention in grade is an ineffective strategy for children who are experiencing academic difficulty or demonstrating 'immature' behaviors. One study, conducted by the University of Georgia, found that students tended to fall even further behind during their second year in the same grade.
Research says that a student who repeats a grade in elementary school is much more likely to later drop out of school. Students who are retained may do better at first, but then fall behind again, possibly because of learning difficulties that have not been identified. Students who are held back are also more likely to dislike school, have low self-esteem, and cause trouble in class.
A better solution to the either/or of social-promotion versus retention is emerging. Educators are coming to realize that there is a third way, one that gives children the specific help they need to overcome the barriers to their academic success. It is not a cookie-cutter approach, but one tailored to the individual child.
For children who are having academic difficulty in learning school-related content, working with specialists in the areas of difficulty or receiving differentiated instruction of content is more effective than retention in grade. Targeted intervention is the best hope for students who are failing academically.
If a student has a specific difficulty in reading, for example, then repeating the 4th grade (in which the student might have received one hour a day of reading instruction) is not the answer. Rather, the student needs an intervention program in which he receives three to four hours each day of reading instruction. This is more important than fourth grade social studies, science, or any other activity. Moreover, when students get this sort of intensive intervention, it not only helps them achieve a reading level that is consistent with their grade level, but also allows them to ultimately succeed in the other academic subjects, such as science and social studies, that depend so much on reading skill.
So what's a parent to do when a teacher suggests retention because of poor academic skills, immaturity, limited English skills, or other problems?
Probably your first move is to ask the teacher to explain, in writing, what the problem is and why retention might help. Then, explore the resources available at your child's school, such as a school psychologist or special education teacher, and ask that person to weigh in.
If a school suggests holding your child back for reasons other than performance, such as maturity, you should get outside help. While the schools are set up to assess these types of issues, they sometimes make mistakes, and outside support is necessary for the parent to make an informed decision. Also, in some schools, the student is automatically help back if he or she has not earned enough credits to move on to the next grade.
A parent should take the time to gather all the pertinent facts and weigh the pros and cons. Parents should not simply agree because the school says so. Get outside opinions before making this type of decision.
Even if your child's problem is identified as poor academic performance, it may be a good time to look for a visual or hearing problem or have your child's learning style evaluated. A child who gets extra help from a special education teacher who understands his learning style may be able to progress to the next grade.
And finally, support your son at home. This may mean watching educational videos with him, taking "field trips" together to museums and other places where he can get hands-on experience, and making sure he has the tools he needs to do well at school -- everything from a quiet place to work to access to the Internet.
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