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

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

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My twin boys were also born 12 weeks early. I have been told both yes and no to autism. The son I want retained spent ages 3/4 and 4/5 in a special ed program, kinder in the autism program. At the end of kinder we changed states, and he was tested by the school as not having autism. They decided to put him in the 1st grade with the resource room for english, math and kindergarten for an hour a day for hands on learning. After a month he was shutting down in the 1st grade room, so he then spent all instruction with the kindergarten class, and went to the 1st grade for the extras, art, music, spanish and PE only. He has relationships with both ages of kids but he is a kindergartner in practice and a 1st grader only on paper. testing, he is an average kinder. The IEP team said retain, principal said no, do the same next year. Opinions?

I am having issues with my 6 year old son, who is in 1st grade. He was born premature (12 weeks early), his birthday falls on Aug. 8, the district cutoff date. He struggles with Math, but is doing well in reading and language. He has issues with paying atttention in class, and doesn’t see the point and importance of doing his classwork, but when he does do it he makes A’s. His teacher feels that he is not mature, and feels that another year in 1st grade would give him a chance to catch up on an emotional level with his peers. I am so confused right now, because he has established relationships with his classmates, and I do not want to futher discourage him by hold him back. Is there anyone that can give me some advice on what I should do in this situation. Would another year in 1st grade really help??

You know what is best and should push for that.

We are in a situation more similar to Stacey. We want to retain our daughter. She is the youngest in 1st G. Her birthday in 10/1, the districts cutoff date. Also, she was adopted from China at 20 mos. old and had virtually no social interaction prior to adoption. My husband and I are convinced that we made a mistake putting her into 1st G this year. I think we were just so proud of her and how she has grown that we didn’t see her lack of maturity compared to other kids going into 1st Grade. Now, we see it and the accompanying drop in performance and focus. However, she still tests at grade level and although we have her teacher’s support the school is pushing back citing research against retention. But that research focuses on retaining “failing” students. We want to place our daughter in the most beneficial environment. Help.

We are considering retaining our son who is struggling in reading & writing in 1st grade. I am a 2nd grade teacher, so I know exactly what will be expected of him. I fear he will reach a frustration level and shut down. I know the research shows retention isn’t beneficial – often, but I don’t want his confidence to be crushed. Half the battle of teaching children is convincing them to try. If they keep failing they give up. This is why I DON’T want to send him on to 2nd grade. Any advice, would be appreciated. (We have seen his doctor about ADD, and are seeking tutoring.)

I am a teacher at a local private school. I work in first grade and deal a lot with ‘readiness’ issues. Some kids are simply too young and they haven’t had the time to develop socially, emotionally, or academically. There are a number of frightening statistics out there, but I don’t find that they correspond to the children I am discussing. What I am saying is that while retention will most likely not help a child who has a academic delay or learning disability, I have witnessed it bringing a world of good to kids who are simply too young. These kids need the gift of more time to develop physically, emotionally, socially and academically! As a teacher in the ‘ranks’ so to say, I have seen it work many, many times. Some kids have risen to graduating with honors! So, I don’t think that retention can so easily be dismissed as ‘bad’ – one needs to look at WHY the child is retained, and the child must have supporting parents willing to do whatever it takes to help them succeed. There is a lot of literature out there that says that kids need to be ready to learn, so if they’re not ready…you just send them on?? No, each child walks at a different time, talks at a different time, grows in a different pace – we are all unique and one ‘test’ or ‘statistic’ cannot tell someone what is best for their child!


Our son is severely mentally retarded. He is 12 years old and in the 3rd grade. He spends most of his time in the special education classroom but has inclusion time with his 3rd grade class. His teachers agree that he learns best and is most motivated when surrounded by his typically developing peers. This year he has made tremendous progress. We want to capitalize on this progress and retain him in third grade. Our school system is demanding that he be promoted. They give no other reason than, “That is our position”. Our son has been retained before and has always made new friends among his typically developing peers. He is the size of a 5 year old and looks younger than all of his peers. He lacks the understanding to be hurt by retention. A retention decision will not affect his special diploma status. What are our options?

Our 8 year old daughter has attended the same private school since kindergarten and is currently in the 3rd grade. At the recommendation of the principal we were told that she would need to be retained next year and repeat the 3rd grade. She has struggled this past year with reading, grammar, math. She seems to be frustrated with herself and according to her teacher requires a lot of one on one attention and instruction. This school makes no accommodations and provides no free tutoring. We are unable to afford outside tutoring and have helped her as much as we can. What should we do about the retention? She is a very sensitive child and has a shy nature about her. I know we can not keep her at this same school and retain her. I just think it would be devastating to her and her self esteem. Any suggestions?? Thank you!

My question to you is why keep her at a school that is not accommodating your child who has needs? She will continue to struggle unless she receives remediation. Would you consider having her tested privately to pinpoint the problem? Or, would you work with your public school? Many public schools do have some great remediation programs depending on the school district. I know one public district that uses Lexia for students. There is no “one fit all” for all students but your daughter needs more that what her school can offer. I don’t think retention will help her at that school. You have time now to research other public and private schools and think carefully about the options for her future.

Not even 1 month into the school year and talks of retention and demotion (moving my son from first to kindergarten right now) are happening.
My son is 6 and does have an IEP for his speech delay, which I feel is going against him. His teacher sited this as an indicator that he should be retained. She said that, while he’s bright and an extremely fast learner, he exhibits immature behavior. A few examples she gave me are taking extra time to go between different work stations, not changing shoes in a timely manner and having to be reminded, when told to do a specific task he delays for several minutes, and when getting his work done before the other children he wonders and creates a disturbance. I’m really not sure what to do but I really feel holding him back will make it worse. Any help would be great. Thank you.

I am very serious about retaining my autism PDD son in 2nd grade. I didn’t know that I could, that if there was an iep they have to pass them. My son did not get the basics in first grade, math, reading comprehension, patterns, money (coins) telling time. He was very depressed because he was getting no help and they were taking his unfinished work away from him, not helping him and not sending it home. He started picking the skin around his finger nails. He said I had to come to school and help him since they wouldn’t or send his papers home. The school would not allow this. Now in second grade, they help him on the tests, they help him find the answers when they have him retake tests since his score was not high enough. He still does not know the basics, but their tests say he does> He was tested at sylvan and is equivalent to a 6 yr old.

My son is 8 yrs old. He has struggled thorughout the year in the language arts curriculum. We receive extra reading group help, private tutor and famiy reading. We have grown tremendously, but still behind. However, I am still leary… Help
Lost in North Carolina

Our IEP team will be discussing retention for a 4th grade student with Asperger’s syndrome. Our team is split on retention. I am very against it for this student. Emotional issues alone are my biggest concern. He is extremely behind (reads on mid first grade level and same with math skills) and behaviors are impacting his learning. He has been fixating on a young lady and another student in the room who he feels is trying to take his girl (totally one sided by the young man). The team that is pro-retention feel that another year in 4th grade would keep his away from this group of students.
Comments please

I have concerns about *retaining* children. I am trying to learn what I can. My son is not on the special ed spectrum for learning disabilities – in fact it is the opposite- he is extremely bright (IQ 133 and tested at or above 99% nationally across the board and he is 6 1/2) the issue I am facing is that he is bored. Yet the school (private school) wants to label him ADHD because he won’t pay attention due to curiosity. He figures things out by just looking at it (whole different issue.) I have had him formally evaluated per a request by the school – and the school is not happy with the results because it shows a lack of teaching, not a learning issue. i am concerned that the school will want to retain him. He will be at a different school next year, but does the current school have a right to suggest retaining him?

I am coming up against this very situation with my kindergartener. She is old for her grade but has a global develomental delay and her cognative scores are very low at this point. She is making GREAT progress and her language skills are only about a year behind now. However, her writing and pre-reading abilities are VERY low and the current cirriculum is greatly modified for her. She learns best 1:1 and with much repetition and overlearning. I’m thinking of holding her back in K or 1st grade to give her an extra year to make progress in learning fundamental skills. School is telling us to keep her with her peers. How can I make the best decision? She’s very social but wouldn’t it be better to close the gap as much as possible on the fundamentals. What are the ramifications if you are a year older in high school?

This question is everywhere! Parents of kids who struggle often wonder if this is the answer. Usually retention doesn’t seem to be the best long term solution, but there are cases where it’s been the best thing for the child. It’s really a tough call to make and a lot of factors should be considered.

Denied: You ask, “If the child is struggling and behind, and wants to be retained, why does the school have an issue with this?”

I’ve worked with kids and families for 30+ years and have met very few kids who *want* to be retained. Children do not have the knowledge, experience or wisdom to understand the ramifications of this decision. If a child wants to be retained, the adults responsible for making decisions that are in the child’s best interest need to find out why.

The decision to retain a child has ramifications that go far beyond the school year. At least 50% of children who are retained once drop out of school. Ninety percent of children who are retained twice drop out. In “Grade Retention: Achievement and Mental Health Outcomes,” researchers learned that 6th graders rated retention as the single most stressful life event, higher than the loss of a parent or going blind. Click here to read the paper –

As Harmonee points out, when a child is retained, he or she will lose supportive relationships with peers / classmates. The child is unlikely to form close, supportive relationships with a new group of younger students.

We built a topics page about Retention that has Q&As, articles, and Position Papers.

As we advised in the original post, “Read the research, educate yourself, get an expert involved.” ~ Pam


I don’t get the hesitation by schools. Families move all the time, and kids adjust. I think being confident with school work is VERY important to a child’s success in school and life. If the child is struggling and behind, and wants to be retained, why does the school have an issue (after all, wouldn’t they score better on standardized tests?!).

Plus, if you move and change districts, can’t you repeat a grade pretty easily?

As a special education teacher, I have had many conversations with parents regarding retention and have felt that retaining the child was not in the child’s best interest for the following reason: your child has established relationships with his/her peers that he may not have with the class below him, so he would need to establish a whole new set of peer relationships prior to starting the new school year. In addition, his peers not only know him socially (including activities outside of school), but kids are smart and they also know where their friends struggle academically, and by and large, I have seen most children lend a helping hand to others who are struggling. This is not to say that the younger children would not assist your son, just that he would need to start over to some extent with the other class. However, and this is a biggie…you know your child best and how he might react to such a change. As a parent, you have the last word on decisions regarding your child. If you feel strongly that you should retain your child, open a conversation with the school principal and explain your position using the tools available to you through “Wrightslaw”. and make sure the principal knows that you will expect this to be a positive change for your child. Good luck!

I agree with Wrightslaw. Making the right decion on retention of your child requires doing your homework. I’ve written an article on the topic you may find helpful at: