Retention is a word that strikes fear and panic in a parent’s heart. As the parent of a struggling student, you might be getting a letter from your school at anytime in the next three months telling you that your child is a candidate for retention at the end of this school year.  What does that mean?

You knew your child was struggling, but you hadn’t thought about him/her staying in the same grade for another year. The questions start racing through your mind. Is this necessary?  How do I know if my child will improve if they stay back in the same grade for another year? How will this affect my child’s self-confidence and self-worth? Your goal is for your child to be successful, but how do you make that happen? What is the right decision?

What does retention mean?

Retention is keeping a child in the same academic grade for another year. It is also known as repeating a grade. This is the opposite of social promotion in which struggling and under performing students are promoted to the next grade in spite of their academic struggles.

Will retention help my child?

The evidence points to the fact that initially children see a boost in their academic performance at the beginning of the school year when they repeat the same grade. This is often because at the start of the school  year most of the material is a review of the material learned the previous year.

However, as time goes on, this boost in academic performance diminishes. Without proper academic support and intervention for the areas that a child is struggling with repeating the same grade again will not benefit the child in any way.

Research bears this out.

What does the research say about retention?

Can retention be researched? Is there any evidence that this will benefit or harm your child? The answer is yes! Yes, there is research. There is a growing body of evidence against retention. The anecdotal evidence is even stronger against keeping a child in the same grade for another year.

First, retention DOES NOT help children with learning disabilities including children with dyslexia. If you aren’t sure if your child has a learning disability then an evaluation may be in order.

The only way to help these learners is to provide them with proper, research-based, proven techniques. If this is not done, then nothing will change.

The National Association of School Psychologists has written a position statement against retention. Instead, they encourage school districts and personnel to find alternatives to retention.

NASP Position Statement on Retention and Social Promotion

A recent study by Notre Dame sociologist Megan Andrew suggests that retention at any age will have a negative impact on the child. She discovered that drop-out rates climb to 60% for children who are retained.

An article that is the focus of her study can be read here.

The most important take away from Ms. Andrew is:

“My study is not a parent’s how-to guide on retention,” she replied by email, explaining that holding a child back is a very personal decision. The most important thing is to address your child’s underlying academic problems, whether you’re holding him back or passing him on to the next grade.”

If the underlying academic problem is not address then nothing will change.

Susan Barton, founder of Bright Solutions for Dyslexia, offers great information on retention and how it can affect a child with dyslexia. Once you go to her website, click on the “How to Get Help” tab in the menu. Then click on  “Retention Doesn’t Work” in the side bar.

Even mainstream parenting magazines present articles that do not favor retention.  Parents Magazine put out this article in 2002, Should Your Child Repeat Kindergarten? The research pool against retention has deepened since then.

The parent has the last say on retention.  Wright’s Law is a fantastic website that will teach you to advocate for your child.  They receive dozens of emails every week from parents who want to know if keeping their child back in the same grade for another year is the right decision. Take a look at what they have to say.

Wright’s Law on Retention

In conclusion, based on the research presented in these few articles, addressing your child’s academic struggles and getting the proper interventions and accommodations is the proper solution.  Holding back a child with a learning issue in the same grade another year will not benefit them.

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