Grade Retention: What to do if Your Child is Held Back

Grade Retention: What to do if Your Child is Held Back

The school year is coming to an end. However, regardless of best efforts, some students are faced with the prospect of being retained instead of moving to the next grade with their peers. This can be a tough decision for both parents and students.

When intervention falls short and it comes down to the fact that your child needs to be retained, your approach to breaking the news can make a big difference.

Mary Mitchell, principal of Coolville Elementary in Athens, Ohio, says she is sure to make it a positive experience for the child from the get-go.

The way you frame the child’s experience matters. The child is now a “class helper” and the teacher’s ally in all things for the new class — and it’s not something to feel negative about at all. She provides examples to tell your child by using wording such as, “You get to be in the same class again next year and you get be the class leader!”

Mary Kay Fleming, psychology professor for the College of Mount Saint Joseph and a nationally recognized expert in the assessment of student learning, agrees that the tone makes a difference — and that includes at home.

She says parents should consider how they talk about school work and learning. Don’t add pressure; learning should be fun. Mitchell is quick to remind, “No small child goes into school and says, ‘I don’t want to do this.’ The child is not being lazy. Something else is going on.”

Both Fleming and Mitchell agree that retention is best in kindergarten, first or second grade. Third grade is much harder for the child because children are more rooted in friendships. Both also agree that if your child is being retained in the third grade, and it is within your means to do so, consider changing schools.

“Starting again in a different school levels the playing field and protects them from being teased,” Fleming says.

Another option for struggling students is the flexibility provided by other types of schools, such as Montessori. Having classrooms bracketed by age range “gives kids more opportunities while also ratcheting down the emphasis on strict deadlines and testing,” Fleming says.

Third Grade Worries

The State of Ohio’s Third Grade Reading Guarantee requires that each child be tested in language arts in the fall of third grade. If a child doesn’t score to the state’s standards, intervention is required. The child will be reassessed in the spring. If the child doesn’t meet standards in the spring, then retention is expected.

The jury is out regarding the effectiveness of grade retention. There’s no guarantee that it will mean success down the road and there also is the possibility that retention sets up the child to have negative feelings toward learning. It may lower self esteem.

“Grade retention is really over estimated in its effectiveness,” Fleming says. “It’s really a call to action for intervention.”

Elizabeth Nelson Creel, executive director of curriculum for Cleveland Metropolitan School District, says that when a child falls short on the autumn third grade assessment, parents should know that their child is entitled to an additional nine hours of reading throughout the school week.

“It’s the law,” she stresses, adding that the question parents should ask their child’s teacher is, “When is my child receiving intervention to help him catch up?”

The assessment focuses on literacy at this point in education because early literacy struggles touch every single learning subject.

“If your child is off track in reading in Cleveland, make sure your child is signed up for summer school,” Creel says. “A struggling third grader is re-tested twice during summer school, so even if it looks like retention is going to happen, the child has two more opportunities to make that cut over the summer so they can be in the fourth grade.”

Creel also encourages parents not to wait until third grade to take advantage of summer programming. Summer school is even open to kindergartners. Children are served breakfast and lunch, and some sites also offer wrap around programs through Boys and Girls Club. The schools even work closely with local daycare centers for bus pick-up and drop-off.

Also, check with your local library for what literacy support and programming is offered.

The bottom line is that intervention is key. Find out what works for your child and where they struggle. You know your child best and how to help.

Get a Complete Eye Exam

Mitchell says that one of the first things she asks parents to do when a child is struggling is to get a complete eye exam, one that not only checks for vision impairment, but also for any tracking issues.

“Kids don’t know what their vision is supposed to be like, therefore parents will have to troubleshoot. A child won’t come to you or self-identify that they have a vision problem,” Fleming says. “All they know is they can’t read.”

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