Evidence suggests holding kids back in school is a waste of time and money


At a Glance

  • Research shows that retention isn’t the best plan for most kids.

  • Academics are only one thing to think about when considering retention.

  • You can talk to your child’s school about all the options before making a decision.


Consider a Transition Approach

Some parents see kindergarten as a "one-two" plan. A child's first school year is spent in a private, half-day or even transition kindergarten program. A child then attends a full-day kindergarten program at public/private school, hopefully with the advantage of the transition year and entering school with more academic readiness and self-confidence. Some programs are specifically geared for 5-year-olds who are delaying school one year.

Ask How You Can Reinforce Learning at Home

Teachers emphasize how vital parental participation is in their child's learning, and never is there a time more important to be involved than with kindergarteners and early reading. If your child seems to be struggling, ask for specific advice as to how you can help reinforce basic learnings at home. Spend dedicated "homework" time with your child every night to start them on the right path of learning. Keep it positive, and reward strong focus and attention to detail.

Whats going on?

Very little research exists that justifies grade retention policies. So Jacob surmises that a few factors are to blame for keeping them around. One is that legislators often propose policies that have gained momentum elsewhere. “Once a few states do something,” he says, “it’s easy to point to these cases as precedent.”

Some of the support may also be driven by psychology. Promoting kids to the next grade feels wrong when they’re not prepared. It seems to betray some American sense of fairness inherent in meritocracies. Jacob says he’s also heard arguments that if a child gets promoted, teachers will need to slow down their lessons, causing the rest of the class to suffer.

“I can understand some of the rationale,” he says, though he emphasises he hasn’t come across evidence that suggests kids who struggle with reading ruin it for everybody.

Jacob argues that the overwhelming factor seems to

Jacob argues that the overwhelming factor seems to be the coercive role grade retention plays in schools. Many states view the laws as an incentive for teachers to do a better job of creating strong readers, he says. It’s the stick of retention, not the carrot of praise, in other words, that serves as an incentive.

Unfortunately, Jacob says, this tactic tends to create an unhealthy educational environment. Teachers feel pressured to perform, so kids start to feel pressured, too. “Especially in an era of accountability,” he says, “when schools are getting a fraction of their third-graders ranked proficient, it’s already something they have been trained to care a lot about.”

But the data has made it clear since the 1970s that retention doesn’t work the way policymakers think it does. Even on an intuitive level, Jacob says, if a child goes an entire year without learning the material, teaching them the same material in the same way for another year probably won’t offer much extra benefit.

What if learners could harness the power of flow?

Can education harness the power of flow to increase student engagement? By Simon McCallum, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington; Edward Schofield, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington, and Stephen Dobson, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria…

Are There Advantages to Reclassing?

Unlike redshirting in kindergarten, where there is research suggesting that academic advantages fade out, there is little, if any, research on the effects of reclassing—possibly because parents and schools are reluctant to bring attention to this decision.

But it can confer some physical advantages, says Patricia Burris-Warmoth, M.D., the director of adolescent medicine at Flushing Hospital Medical Center in New York City. A boy who reclasses in eighth grade, for example, would increase the odds he would have more muscle mass and more upper-body strength than this peer group.

And those like Wick, Dr. Armstrong, Pierre-Louis, and Blackistone—who've followed the trajectories of kids who have reclassed—agree that, for some kids, it has led to a professional career or a college scholarship.

Yet experts aren't so sure how it affects children psychologically. Dr. Armstrong is concerned about the implications when kids—sometimes as young as 11 years old—are held back. "Personally, I think it messes with the kids' heads," says Dr. Armstrong. He worries that the same concerns that plague kids retained for academic reason come into play with reclassing. "It's the same as a child saying, 'I made all F's and I repeated a grade. Now I'm with a group of kids that are younger me.'"

Meanwhile, psychologists don't have precise information about the social/emotional repercussions from reclassing because of the absence of research. But Bergen County, New Jersey, school psychologist Gila Elbaum suggests that if parents are deciding on reclassing, potential social ramifications, such as the emotional fallout from seeing former classmates move on, should be considered. "Watching your age mates experience the different milestones ahead of you can make a child feel ostracized," explains Elbaum.

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Parents And Teachers Are Worried

Only days after I was seeking out answers on this topic, it really started to explode all over Facebook. Parents and teachers alike are worried and many are fearful for a myriad of reasons.

After reading through hundreds of other posts, this is what I’m seeing that parents are most concerned about:

  1. Kids getting sick, dying or spreading it to at-risk populations. 
  2. Schools not reopening at all; or on the flip side, that schools will open.
  3. The social and emotional health of our young kids because of social isolation, mask-wearing, lack of play and recess, being stuck in the same room all day, no bathroom breaks, not being able to see facial expressions, not being able to make new friends, and a break in connection between teacher and child. 
  4. Being able to survive at home because of feeling like in-person school is not an option.
  5. Disruption to schedules and routines.
  6. No real learning will take place or kids will continue to fall behind. 
  7. The teachers’ mental and physical health or that teachers will quit. 
  8. Kids being able to social distance and how that will be enforced.
  9. The chemicals they will use to clean and the carbon dioxide inhaled all day in a mask.  
  10. Special needs being met or educational issues with kids with IEP or 504 plans. 
  11. Parents’ own anxieties and fears about all the changes.
  12. Kids who rely on schools for their well-being.

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