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December 02, 2011


Amy Mahonski

Thank you for posting this article.
In my experience as a special education teacher, retention has rarely been a solution to the problems of struggling students. I have witnessed it only to help in the rare instances when children started school at a younger-than-normal age, and consequently had a severe lack of maturity as compared to other age-appropriate grade-level peers.
A child who has experienced retention also carries the lifelong stigma of being the "flunked" child. It is no wonder that the high school drop out rate of a retention student is 2 to 11 times higher than that of his promoted peers.
It saddened me to read that 72% of special education students had been retained at least one time.
Teaching 5th and 6th grade learning support, I carefully observe all students in both grades, whether they are already identified or not. For those students who show signs of academic struggle, I closely progress monitor their progress (or lack of progress) and request a referral for evaluation after meeting with parents. I have to be their greatest advocate. Yes, it makes more work for me ... but that's what we teachers are supposed to do - provide the best for our students.


Social promotion does not, to me, make any sense whatsoever. Why would anyone ever think that passing a student, not because they are prepared academically, but so they are not discouraged socially, was a good idea. The logic behind this is very weak, and I feel that students only suffer. Too often, I have encountered students who were not prepared and on track with their classmates; I could tell that they should have been held back. Even more, I have heard from educators that they have been told not to fail students as it is too expensive. Is this the best situation for the student? Does it ensure learning and mastery occur?
Too often, saving money is the priority, and mastery and education are lost in the shuffle. The only solution is ensuring that the student gets the help he or she needs which would be greatly assisted by supportive family, necessary resources, time, and additional teachers. I hope every child gets all of those opportunities.

Angie Moss

I had my son REPEAT..And I was given a really hard time by the school district. They sighted research and social reasons of why it was terrible for a Jr higher to repeat. We had to go all the way up to the assistant SE and plead our case. It makes me upset that people that have too many kids in their classroom to even notice if my son is failing, all of sudden feel that they have the right to have a say in my child's future. You can say all you want about research and all the findings and feel sorry for all these kids. (when has feeling sorry for someone helped the person progress?)I choose not to look at the negative, the what if's? but choose what was going to be the best my son. I looked at all the benefits. He had anther year to learn to study, to retake the same classes and succeed in them and as result feel confident! He now knows that he can achieve good grades! His self esteem has gone up. Talk about social stigma, he is the populer cool kid in school cause he's just a little taller, a little more mature than the rest of the kids. He loves his new school and loves socializing on the bus. So far it has been the smartest choice for my son. I recomend any parent that is out there that is wanting their child to repeat, think of your child as individule rather then a statistic. Everyone is different, their own person.If you think it's the right choice for your kid then do it and fight. Just remember that it it's going to be work in order break old habits. There is going to have to be real consistency on the parents and some collaboration with school in order for them to succeed. Don't ever let school officials sight research, w/out them bringing into account you child personally. Repeating is NOT a bad choice if YOU think it will help you child.

Yael Cohen

As a special education advocate (who also has a teacher's license and an MA in Special Education), I think retention should really depend on the individual child. The research on this issue is not clear and not always valid, and often pertains to particular populations.

In recent years, I have found myself on both sides of this issue, depending on the needs of the child at that particular time and also looking at the whole child. Clearly it makes no sense to have a child simply redo a year of school without additional quality instruction. But, there are situations that merit retention. Let me give some examples:

A child struggled for years with both dyslexia and other academics. There was decent intervention in and out of school. The family moved and the child was eager to repeat a year in elementary school before moving on to middle school. Parents report that this is the first time that the child comes home happy from school, feeling successful in the middle of the class instead of the bottom. (Intervention has continued in the new school.)

A kindergartener with special needs struggled through a high-pressure kindergarten with special ed supports; he should have spent one more year in his preschool where he was making great strides but the district said they didn't allow it. (Obviously no advocate was involved when that decision was made.) Against a schoolful of "professional" advice based on research that no one but me had read, the child repeated kindergarten in a more traditional program, again, with special ed supports; he did so well, he transferred back to the original higher-achieving school for 1st grade -- again, doing well.

A third child, misdiagnosed and misplaced, spent 2 years in a class for kids with emotional disturbance. They thought his screaming about not reading was emotional, but he really couldn't. He has dyslexia and ADHD. At the end of last year, we transferred him into a full day elementary school intensive research-based reading program that really takes 2 - 3 years to complete. Technically he is in sixth grade and will have to move on in the coming year. We left the decision until this spring to decide whether he should have one more year of the intensive program if he is succeeding and needs another year. The options are to go into middle school reading on or close to grade level, or going into middle school on time, but moving to a much weaker instructional model and having him struggle through middle and high school. He is also "very young" for his age. The decision will be made based on data.

For a fourth child, there is now a question as to whether he should begin high school on time, or do an extra year of middle school (at another school). Tons has gone into this child -- from special ed (that has never been very strong) to a significant amount of quality research-based tutoring, to half-day 1:4 ratio quality programing for kids with learning difficulties to the current 1:1 he is receiving 30 hours/week (for 20 weeks). I am convinced this child may never recover emotionally should he be "left back." He is a very social young man and I believe that retention would slay him when other kids found out. I vote no although am willing to research options other than public school.

Clearly, it is a tricky decision, but in my professional opinion, it should be made with a lot of careful thought about the child and the options.

Yael Cohen
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Tina Schroeder

I am right now in a battle with the school system. My daughter is a year younger than the other kids in her class. She has been diagnosed with ADHD and specific reading disabilities. She is failing 4th grade (she should be in 3rd) but because the preschool in MI would not allow her to stay in their program one more year she was pushed into kindergarten when she was 4. They refused to give her any special education help from kindergarten through 2nd grade so she fell farther and farther behind. Once we moved to CO she was already drastically behind and her IEP has her working on 2nd and 3rd grade material to try to catch her up. She has not met a single goal on her IEP in the past 2 years. Now this school is trying to push her into 5th grade (which starts middle school here) where they beginning changing classes for every subject. They plan on integrating her into a severe needs special education class to give her more help. Which I am not crazy about. My daughter is more immature (mentally, emotionally and physically) than any of the kids in her class. She also has gastrointestinal dysfunctions that she will be having surgery for this summer that the kids in her class pick on her relentlessly for.

The school keeps telling me that because she has an IEP it would be discrimination against a child with a disability if they retain her for a year. I say if they continue to push her forward without giving her the chance to catch up and even start over with kids her own age after she gets her physical disabilities taken care of so that she builds her confidence up and makes friends her own age that don't criticize her for her past they are setting her up for failure. They don't see it that way.

I have a meeting with them today at noon. I am more than willing to be an unpaid teachers aid in her class everyday if that would help her teachers out with her. If that is still not acceptable I plan on pulling her from the school district and homeschooling her myself. I have to do what is right for my daughter, regardless of what the school thinks is right for her or not.

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