At this time of year, teachers and school administrators start having "that" conversation with parents. WHAT? It takes THAT long to figure out that a student isn't meeting expectations? WHY hasn't SOMEBODY done SOMETHING before now? Well, I'll let you in on a little secret, teachers are discouraged from making referrals for special education assessments. Are you reading between the lines here? They need their jobs, but they want to help your child. Guess who loses out here?
Let's look at the potential fall out from retention and then move onto "what to do now".
Extensive research for the past 30 years indicates that there is, of course, serious variation as to the merits of holding kids back a grade. While it may be positive for a few students, there is evidence that is creates an overwhelming amount of lifelong damage without improvement in achievement (what the kid has actually learned).
The bottom line in the research is that there are no lasting benefits to retaining a child. In fact, kids who are retained are 60% less likely to graduate from high school. Kids who are retained two years have a 100% drop out rate. Holding a child back in school is associated with high risk behaviors such as smoking, using drugs and weapons-related violence. School failure more accurately predicts violence, use of alcohol and sexual activity than poverty, race and family structure. It's not advertised as such, but school failure is a public health crisis.
First graders rated as "at-risk" who were promoted caught up with the pack by second grade.
Be careful about retaining your kindergartner or first grader. Their struggles may be more related to adjusting to a formal school setting than to learning skills or achievement. Retaining them doesn't help, neither do "transition grades" such a pre-kindergarten or pre-first or developmental kindergarten or whatever it is called.
I've had principals say, "Well, he's immature. If we hold him back a year, he'll have time to mature". To which I respond, "So, if we retain him in the 4th grade and he's in class with kids who are a year younger and more immature than he is, how does that help him grow, exactly? Perhaps he needs help with his academics and we'll let his peer group socialize him". If the boy is retained, especially in the same school, the humiliation and shame alone may cause him such distress that he is unlikely to learn and now, the emotional waters are muddied.
Despite all of our fancy software and record keeping, we still don't know how many kids are held back every year. But, it's thought that maybe 7-10% are retained...make that 50% in the urban areas. The cost for holding a kid back for one grade for one year is, are you ready, about $19 BILLION. I've got nothing else to say here. You're smart enough to know that something's wrong.
The very first thing you do when you catch wind that your child may be recommended for retention which is usually around February is to request a special education assessment in writing. They have 15 days to present you with an assessment plan. They have 90 days to complete the assessment and at some point, you'll be told that there isn't enough time. Ask to see the calendar to determine how many days are left. If they don't have enough time, ask for an independent educational evaluation. You must submit the request in writing. If it's denied and you cannot afford to get an assessment on your own, you'll have to consider retaining or promoting your child. But you must make it clear that you expect that your child will be evaluated as soon as school starts. Think about this, it will be around the end of November before you know if your child has a learning problem or is otherwise eligible for support.
The best approach? Request an assessment, writing, in January is you have any concerns whatsoever that your child isn't mastering the concepts and skills.
I've written a previous post about the nature of school district assessments. Considering the serious limitations of school-based assessments, you have to determine if you have enough information about how your child learns to come to a conclusion about retention.
DON'T LET THEM BULLY YOU OR LIE TO YOU. School administrators are like spiders...they are more afraid of us than we are of them. However, they are in charge and they know "stuff" and can sound convincing and intimidating. But, we have laws protecting our rights to make decisions about our children's education. If you know your rights, they are very afraid of you...spiders...
If they say:
- We're out of money (I've just heard this yesterday from one of my parents...I can't believe this stuff!);
- We have to do ABC, then DEF, then GHI...that's absolute bunk. You as parents have every right under the federal law (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) to request an assessment without condition. Just go ahead and quote me on this.
- "But, Jack isn't behind 3 years and it's district policy". Well, NOWHERE in the FEDERAL LAW is there any reference to being 3 years behind.
- ...any other excuse they can come up with..
If Momma or Dad says, "Test him"...it must be done.