When Should A Child Be Held Back A Grade?

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Maybe it has been a rough school year.  Your son or daughter brought home grades that made you cringe.  The phone calls and emails from the school teacher are coming in faster and faster.  So you start to wonder - should my child repeat their current grade?

Parents of struggling school children and teens often wonder if repeating a year will help.  Sometimes parents worry that their child will be held back a grade if their child does not master their academic skills for that grade.

  The thing is, poor grades and struggling with subject matter alone are not good reasons for a child to be held back a grade. 

There are many different possible reasons why a school age child did not learn or succeed during a school year.  Simply having them repeat the grade without looking at and addressing the real cause behind the struggle merely means doing the same thing twice.  If they didn't get it the first time, then doing the same action again will probably give the same result - another year without success.

Repeating the same year with a younger group of students is also an ineffective means of punishment, if you are thinking of holding your child back to discipline them.  If your main concern is motivation or cooperation, then you would be better off re-examining your child's behavior and discipline strategies rather than continuing another year of the same strategies that didn't work for them.

Still, there are children that benefit from being held back a year.  What kind of student will benefit from repeating a grade?  The very short answer is a student who seems to be in the wrong grade level.  I don't mean a child who seems a little behind, but rather a child who is academically, socially and physically behind his or her classmates.


Factors That Suggest School Grade Retention 

  • Born in the last half of the year for their grade level.  In other words, they are among the youngest half of students in their grade.
  • Physically smaller in size.
  • Have not been held back a grade before.
  • Has a background with little social and cultural experience.
  • Is about one year below grade level in academic skills.
  • Younger grades are more suited for repeating a grade than high grades.  A young acting kindergartner would be more likely to benefit from repeating a grade than a seventh grader.
  • Began kindergarten before age five.
  • Strongly prefers to hang out with younger children.
  • Does understand and speaks English at their own age level
  • Does not have a history of emotional or conduct disorders.
  • Struggles in school are not the result of an illness, learning disability, or frequent moves.
  • Spends most of their time on task working on school assignments, even though they may not be able to complete them.

The above list of characteristics describes a student who may benefit from repeating a grade.  It is important to note that several of these factors should be present, not just a few. 

Repeating a grade is a big event for a child. They will have a different set of peers who are at a different point in their social, emotional and academic development.

  Making sure your child is with the right group can have a major impact on your child's school success.  If you or your child's school is contemplating repeating a grade, it is important to really make sure that this will have the best outcome.  Ask if your child's school counselor or school psychologist can evaluate your child using a research-based scale to determine how likely repeating a grade will benefit your child.  One suitable scale is Light's Retention Test.

If your child is struggling, but you find your child is unlikely to benefit from repeating a grade, take a look at alternatives to retention.

  Often, finding the right help for the struggle can make all the difference for a child's success.

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