Deciding Whether to Retain Your Child
By Dr. Kenneth Shore
Your concern about whether your son should be retained is understandable. This is not an easy decision for parents or teachers. It requires weighing the benefits of another year of instruction in first grade against the stigma and potential loss of self-esteem resulting from retention. This decision should not be based solely on one factor such as a standardized test score. Rather the decision-makers — which in most schools typically includes the parents, teacher and principal — should consider the following factors:
- Grade Level: A child adjusts better if retained in the early elementary grades, namely kindergarten and first grade. Keeping a child back in the later elementary years, when he may have developed a stable group of friends, can cause him considerable distress and is rarely justifiable.
- Academic Development: Keeping a child back is better suited to a “late bloomer” who is struggling with all of his subjects than a student who is having difficulty with one subject. As an example, if your child is having problems with math but keeping pace in his other subjects, he should get extra help in math rather than be kept back.
- Source of Your Child’s Difficulties: He may be having a problem in school as a result of a specific problem. Possible causes include a learning disability, a hearing or vision problem, emotional distress or an attentional problem. If you can identify a specific cause of your child’s school difficulties, it is better to deal with this problem by addressing it directly rather than by retaining him.
- Evidence of a Learning Disability: If you or your child’s teacher suspect that he has a learning disability, ask that he be tested by the school’s evaluation team. Retention of a learning disabled child may only cause him additional failure and frustration.
- Your Child’s Feelings: A child who strongly resists retention may be willing to work hard to keep up with classmates while a child who is agreeable to staying back may be feeling overwhelmed by the academic demands.
- Availability of Extra Help: If your child can receive academic support in the next grade, then he may be able to keep pace with his classmates without retention. This support may take the form of remedial instruction, after-school instruction, peer tutoring or help from a classroom aide.
- Teacher Variables: Consider the style of the teachers in assessing your child’s ability to be successful in the next grade. Other parents are a reliable source of information about the difficulty level of the class, the flexibility of the teachers, their homework demands and their willingness to accommodate students with special needs. These discussions may lead you to request a particular teacher.
- Physical Stature of Your Child: If he is tall for his age, he will stand out even more if he stays back.