Why Retention Matters

I posted some time ago why retention matters concerning children with disabilities. I write again on this subject because I continue to receive inquires from parents whether they should retain their child in the current grade level.  I also recently received an email from a parent who wanted to move his  daughter back from 2nd grade to 1st grade in mid-semester because she was failing all her subjects and was socially immature for her grade level. I suggested to the parent that moving her daughter back to the 1st grade would do more harm than good.  Can you imagine the loss of self-confidence and self-esteem a child would likely suffer after being removed from her current class and placed in a lower grade in mid-semester.  I informed the parent that apparently the school system is not doing its job of educating his daughter and he should ask for an IEP meeting and request further evaluations concerning a possible learning disability and revisions to the IEP.  I did not hear back from this parent so I am left with a question whether he continued on his mission to try to remove his daughter from 2nd grade and back to first grade by this January? I hope not.   Of course, the parent does not have the unilateral right to require the IEP team to remove his child from 2nd grade and place her back into 1st grade. Retention for children with disabilities is within the purview and prerogative of the IEP team only.  I would expect this parent would encounter some resistance from IEP team members to comply with his request assuming the educators are enlightened about the negative effects of retention and especially in this situation.  Not all educators, however, are knowledgeable about the adverse effects of retention. Research suggests although teaches play a key role in retention decision-making, they are often unaware of the conclusions of retention research. (Haberman & Dill, 1993; Smith & Shepard, 1987, 1988; Tanner 1993; Tomchin & Impara, 1992).

The fact is there are hundreds of scientifically-based research studies that demonstrate grade retention is not an effective academic intervention.  The overwhelming weight of these studies indicates retention is not effective for students with academic, behavioral, and immaturity problems. (Entwisle & Dauber, 1994; Allington & McGill-Franzen, 1995; Shepard, 1991; Walters & Borgers, 1995). Peer review studies how show retention does not improve academic achievement over time.  Almost all retentions occur in either kindergarten, 1st grade, 5th grade or 8th grade.  Studies have shown children retained in elementary school may perform better for a year or two if retained but after this period their academic achievement falls to the same level or even lower than children who might struggle academically but are not retained. Children who are retained have a much higher risk of developing behavioral problems, substance abuse issues, low self-esteem, and negative attitude toward school. There is a high correlation between retention and dropping out of school.  With one retention, the likelihood of the child dropping out of school is increased to around 40-50%. If the child is retained twice, the likelihood of that child dropping out is about 90% or higher. Several studies reported that grade retention was found to be the strongest predictor of later drop out status. (Jimerson, Anderson & Whipple, 2002).

The social costs of retention are economically steep. For every child that is retained a school system pays an average of  more than $10,000.00 for the extra year of school. Instead of retaining the child, school systems would benefit by spending this money on research-based strategies.  This is particularly true for children with disabilities who are served through IEP. There are probably a host of interventions, strategies, accommodations, and modifications that an IEP team can consider in revising a child’s IEP instead of retaining the child at his current grade level. Parents should become familiar with the peer review research on retention and speak with their child’s teachers and administrators to request an IEP team to address the child’s academic and/or social failures.

Suffice it to say it would be rarely justified to retain a child with a disability at his current grade. Parents and teachers  must become better informed of the research studies indicating the adverse consequences of grade retention. When this occurs, the retention rate will decrease and there will be less high school drops and more children graduating from high school. If you have any questions about grade retention and whether it is appropriate for your child, please contact me.  I might not convince every one of you it is bad idea but at least I will plan the seed of doubt in your mind to re-consider your decision.

Happy holidays to all!