As spring break passes and the end of the school year gets closer, the topic of retention starts to move back to the forefront. Despite decades of research showing that retention is NOT an effective intervention, school personnel start to bring up this topic as if it were a good idea. In layman's terms, it sounds like a good idea. The child is too immature or not going to thrive in the upcoming grade level even if placed. Why put that stress on the child? I would agree, no one wants to stress a child out more than what they already feel. However, it is also a sign that something else needs to be done. Exposing him or her to another year of more of the same does in fact, show short-term gains in progress. Think about it, why wouldn't it? The child has already been exposed to the curriculum from last year. What the research shows though, is that is a short-term gain that is quickly erased, and then the child is back to struggling again. Why? Well, if you have not addressed why the child was struggling in the first place, there will always be new stuff to learn, but this time they are older and the learning demands have continued to increase even though the only thing that was done was to have them repeat a grade.
There are many factors as to why a child is struggling, it could be environmental, a teaching fidelity issue, or perhaps learning or attention problems run in the family? Consider digging deeper to finding the root cause of the child's learning difficulties. It's important to find out his/her style of learning and adapt to this, rather than make him/her adapt to the instruction.
I realize that every case is different. I am writing to express my concern in general about the practice of retention and to open the discussion of what we know works and does not work from what the facts show from longitudinal studies. My hope is that it provides information for parents to carefully consider other options when deciding on whether or not to retain their child.
Dr. Dyanna Villesca