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.
Picture by P Cutler