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Retention or Promotion? What’s best for my child?

by Wrightslaw

Parent #1:

My son wants to be “left behind”. I feel that another year in the smaller, familiar middle school would be less intimidating and give him some time to mature. Because of the b’day he really wouldn’t be older than the rest anyway.

Parent #2:

I don’t want my child to be retained. Everything I read seems to say that retention is not good for the child. I’m struggling with the school because they say she is the youngest in her class and needs to stay behind so she can “catch-up”. She has struggled with reading and math for 2 years. I think she needs more help – not just being held back.

We’ve heard questions from parents on both sides of the issue.

At Wrightslaw, we say: Read the research, educate yourself, get an expert involved.

For those who are dealing with retention, you must educate yourself before you can take a rational position and advocate for a child. We built a page on Wrightslaw with resources about retention.

On that page, download and read these Position paper articles from (1) the National Association of School Psychologists, and (2) the American Federation of Teachers.

Retention poses several problems – including the fact retained children are far more likely to drop out.

If you are considering retaining a child, get an independent expert involved. This person can evaluate your child and help you use facts to make this important decision.

If you want to read more, we’ll share a comment below from a parent who wanted retention for her son. She did her research, contacted the experts, and determined what she thought was the best route for her child. We don’t agree that retention is the best case for most children. But this parent’s advocacy strategy and tactics were well crafted.

A lot of the research regarding retention says that it doesn’t work. But a lot of that research is based on keeping kids in the same instructional environment and kids who have extenuating circumstances outside of school. The extenuating circumstances did not apply to our son and we were asking for different supports and instructional techniques.

Repeating a grade with no changes in supports or how the instruction is delivered generally has the same affect-not working. Finally, the new research shows that kids are not successful when they are being taught at a frustration level . . . they need to be taught at an appropriate instructional level. For our son, who is 1.4 years behind, moving ahead put him in the frustration level. All of these factors led us to ask for retention so he could catch up and move ahead the next year.

We requested retention for many of the same reasons as you and were told it had never been done in our district beyond kindergarten or first and they were not going to do it. (We are about to go into middle school). The reasons were it hasn’t been done, it’s against policy, research doesn’t support it, etc. I talked to the principal and district people informally to find out all the reasons they would want to deny, then crafted a really nice power point (based on the types of info I learned at Wrightslaw Bootcamp about decining test scores (order the CD to find out how to draft your child’s dropping achievement scores). Then I got letters from his private providers (tutor, psychologist, etc.) and his doctors. The doctors said it would be too stressful for him to move ahead with such lagging academics and it would harm his health. The meeting began with the principal telling the 15-person team this had never been done and trying to coerce them to decide against before I even started. He announced that the three main people in the State Education office said it couldn’t be done. I had the policy that I got at the district which said nothing of the sort. I passed it out, showed my slides a la Wrightslaw style, and we won or case. Don’t be discouraged if they tell you no. Do your homework, make a nice presentation that is prepared like the “letter to the stranger” (see Emotions to Advocacy book), and go for it. I never thought I could win on this request, but it turned out to be pretty easy. Good luck.

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82 Comments on "Retention or Promotion? What’s best for my child?"


Karen – I’d like info about what the psychologist said about retaining your son. Why did she recommend that? Did she evaluate him? Can you share what tests she used? Based on your son’s tests, did the Psychologist say what specific program he should have or how they should teach him specifically in the 4th grade again – that would bring him up the 1.5 years? Did the school even look at his test scores and her recommendations?


I would like more information as to how this mom fought the fight of retention. I had the same situation with my son. He was 1.5-2 years behind entering the 5th grade. We were changing schools overseas in the international community. We had been told by the Psychologist that retention would benefit him. I took the Retention Survey given to me by our principal to help me in my decision and did more research. I requested that my son repeat the 4th grade at the new school and they denied my request based on his age alone. Never mind his academic scores, his social/emotional state, and his clearly being behind academically. They thought they knew him better having not met him. He finished 5th grade but he was still way behind his peers academically and anxious. 6th grade was too hard for him. He is now home-schooled.


I have a student that has been recommended for evaluation from our MTSS (old rti) team that has been receiving intensive intervention each day she has been here. At 3rd grade, she is 1 1/2 years behind. She has missed exactly 1 1/2 years of schooling (no kinder, didn’t start first grade until April, is on the “3-day school week plan” loads of absences). Second language learner, very young, immature, tiny, fall birthday, sweet, talented artist. I would like to recommend retention. Every year, it gets harder and harder to close the gap. She went to summer school last year(the summer school program can kick them out if they miss more than 3 days of school, we are not allowed)If she repeated 3rd grade,attended summer school again and came to school so I could work with her, I believe she could be on grade level. Any research for this?


My daughter is 8 and in the 3rd grade. She is advanced in all her classes and has been a straight A student since she started school. How do I make sure my child is getting all their is to out there to further advance her.


My son is 11 year old and doing good in 6th grade. My daughter when she was in 1st grade was good. At end ask her to take a exam &amp skip a 2nd grade and went to 3rd grade. When she was 16 1/2 year when she finished highschool with 4.5 grade. She got scholarship in university. I like to do that for my son. Is it a good time that he is at 6th grade at 11 year old? please suggest.