If your child struggled through the last year and the school is recommending retention, there are some very important points to consider. Studies show that repeating a grade can be harmful for students and grade retention is one of the biggest predictors of high school dropouts. Before you decide to keep your kid back a year, discuss alternatives with your teachers and school administrators.
Students who are held back may initially show improvement, but the gains they get from retention only last a year or two before they begin to fall behind again. When students are struggling at school, the answer may not be more school. Instead, speak with teachers about what is holding them back to solve their academic issues over the long term.
A study by Roderick and Nagaoka (2005) found that 3rd graders who had been kept back a grade struggled during the next year, had higher rates of special education placement, and showed no advantage two years later than those who had moved to the next grade. The study also found that 6th graders who had been held back a year had lower achievement growth than students with similar academic issues who were not retained.
Older students may have different developmental interests than the younger students in their grade. Bullying and lack of confidence can lead to behavioural and social issues which only compound the academic problems.
Most studies which compare students which similar academic performance to see if retention helps to improve grades show that it is not effective in fostering positive academic growth. Holmes (1989) carried out a meta-analysis of 63 different studies that examined the academic impact of retention. Fifty-four of the studies concluded that students who were retained and students who were promoted performed at very similar levels. This means that retention had no significant effect on academic performance. In fact, students who had not been held back slightly outperformed their retained peers the following year (Norton, 1990; Walters & Borgers, 1995).
Solutions to poor academic performance
Whether you decide to promote or retain your child next year, this action alone is not enough to overcome academic problems. Perhaps your child needs to learn study skills, or maybe some fundamental building blocks are missing from their knowledge base. In both cases, academic losses will be compounded and they will drop further behind each year.
Discuss the underlying problems with your child’s teacher. They will be able to direct you to the causes, both academic and behavioural, that your child is experiencing.
Consider a personal tutor who will be able to adapt material to suit your child’s learning style, teach them the requisite academic skills they need to succeed and fill in the missing building blocks to their knowledge base. Taking a hands-on approach will help your child to succeed which will improve their self-confidence too.