Dear Dr. Shore,
My daughter's teacher is recommending that she be retained next year. My husband and I are really ambivalent about agreeing to it. What factors should we consider in making the decision?
Your ambivalence is understandable given the potential impact of retaining a student. In making this decision, consider the following factors, but do not rely too heavily on one factor only (for example, test scores or a grade in one subject).
What grade is your child in? Retention is less stigmatizing if done in the early grades; it is highly questionable after third grade. By fourth grade, most children have a stable group of friends and likely will have difficulty adjusting socially to staying back. Retention at the middle school level is rarely effective.
How does your child compare with her classmates academically, socially, and emotionally? Retention is more appropriate for students who are "late bloomers" and lagging behind in most subjects, than for those who are struggling in one subject. A child who is having difficulty in reading but is otherwise keeping pace with her classmates is more in need of extra reading help than retention.
What is the cause of your child's academic problems? Your child might be struggling because she has a learning disability, has a problem with hearing or vision, or is emotionally upset and unable to concentrate. If so, confronting the problem is usually more effective than retaining the student.
How big is your child compared with her classmates? If your child is big for her age, she will stand out even more when she stays back and will feel even more different from her classmates.
How old is your child compared with her classmates? All other factors being equal, a child who is chronologically young for her grade is a better candidate for retention than one who is not.
What are your child's feelings about the retention? If your child feels strongly about moving on, that suggests that she feels up to the challenge and is willing to persist in the face of difficulties. On the other hand, if your child says that she wants to stay back, she is telling you that she doesn't feel ready to go on and is feeling overwhelmed by current classroom demands.
What programs are available to help your child if she is promoted? You might be less inclined to agree to retention if your child can receive academic support in the next grade.
What are the styles of the teachers in the next grade? Ask other parents about the difficulty level, teaching style, homework demands, ability to individualize instruction, and flexibility of teachers in the following grade. That information might not only help you gauge whether your child can succeed if she moves on, but give you ideas about which teacher to request.