Net Exchange Response

Title: Deciding about retaining a first grade student

Date Posted: 3/15/2004

Question: I am a first grade teacher in an inclusion class in an urban district. In November we received a new student who was just recently classified. He was unable to write his name and knew only the letters x and o. He did not have number recognition for 1-9. His attendance is very poor (out 45 days pre-k, 46 days k, and almost 20 days so far this year). He also needed glasses to see (he is far-sighted) and did not get them until January, although we provided a free voucher and made the request the first day he came into our class.

Since getting his glasses he has made good progress, but we are concerned about sending him to second grade. He has excellent listening skills, and is making progress in all areas. Due to his attendance, and not getting the full benefit of a year in an inclusion class, and not being able to see the first half of the year, we are thinking of retaining him. We believe that if he repeats first grade he will leave first grade at or close to grade level in reading and math.

Our principal and Reading Recovery teacher are in support of this, the psychologist is vehemently opposed although she has not reviewed his IEP, not observed him in class. What do you think?

Response: The decision to retain or promote is one facing many school staff, families, and students at this time of the school year.

In the situation described, there are two questions to address:

  1. What do we know about the pros and cons of retaining students?

  2. What to do when school staff disagree about what to do?

For aids related to the first question, go to the Center website's Quick Find on "Social Promotion"

There you will find links to materials our Center has developed on retention/social promotion and also links to other online documents such as

  • Alternative to social promotion and grade retention
  • Finding alternative to failure: can state end social promotion and reduce retention rates
  • National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities press release on grade retention
  • Prevention retention in an era of high standards
  • Retention and social promotion: Research and Implications for policy
  • Student Retention: trying to succeed where others failed
  • When retention is recommended, what should parents do?

Reviewing these brief articles and looking at the arguments for and against retention will prepare you for the 2nd question -- What to do when school staff disagree?

First, it is important to understand what underlies the disagreement. For example, it may be

  • A philosophical position (I don't think students should be retained, because...)
  • Previous experiences (When we retained students in the past they experienced...)
  • Information from training or research (The literature on retention says...)
  • Difference experiences with the specific student (When I work with this student I see...)
  • Political concerns (Our district shows too many students retained...)

Second, a "mediator" may be needed to help work through the disagreement. In doing this, the decision should not be just retain or not. Alternatives might include intervening to see what progress can be made before deciding about retention. For example:

  • A personalized instructional program could be planned and implemented over the next three months.
  • A summer program also could be pursued, with the decision about retention or promotion delayed until summer progress could be determined.

In both instances, the family might be asked to play a role in supporting the interventions and obviously in making the final decision.

Submit a request or comment now.

UCLA Center for Mental Health in Schools
Dept. of Psychology, P.O.Box 951563, Los Angeles, CA 90095.
tel: (310)825-3634
email: Linda Taylor ~ web: