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Doing Your Homework:
Retention! Special Ed Teacher Needs Ammunition

by Sue Whitney, Research Editor, Wrightslaw

I am a third year special ed teacher in California. I am having a big disagreement with my mentor about retention.

I say research shows that retention is not successful. It is inappropriate to suggest retention for students with IEPs. (I
believe it violates the spirit of IDEA, if not the letter of the law.) Can you suggest any resources or caselaw that is relevant to this issue?

P.S. My mentor teacher says I feel this way because I am "new" but after I have taught as long as he has, I will see things differently . . . I hope not!

From Sue

Your mentor teacher is wrong on this one. As you will see in the articles below, many respected organizations and departments of education do not support retention. What research is your mentor relying upon to support his position?

Regardless of whether a child has a disability, retention is not an educationally sound practice.

The National Association of School Psychologists speaks against the use of retention. The American Federation of Teachers opposes it. The U.S. Department of Education does not support it.

The definition of special education is "specially designed instruction, at no cost to parents, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability." 20 U.S.C. 1401(29) (Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd Edition, page 55)

It would be difficult for a school to successfully argue at a due process hearing that they provided a program of "specially designed instruction . . . to meet the unique needs of a child," while also acknowledging that they did not teach the child the information he needs to know, so they want to retain him.

If retention is a problem at your school, you may want to pass these publications on to the principals and parent groups. You can also print and distribute the Wrightslaw Retention Flyer.
This will provide plenty of support for your position!

Retention Resources

Grade Retention - Achievement and Mental Health Outcomes (National Association of School Psychologists)

Position Statement on Student Grade Retention and Social Promotion (National Association of School Psychologists) "Through many years of research, the practice of retaining children in grade has been shown to be ineffective in meeting the needs of children who are academically delayed."

Two Wrong Solutions (American Federation of Teachers) "Social promotion and grade retention are mechanical responses to an educational problem. The scandal is how little attention they give to preventing failure in the first place."

Of Primary Interest (Published cooperatively by the Colorado Department of Education, Iowa Department of Education, Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Montana Office of Public Instruction, Nebraska Department of Education) "For the vast majority of students, retention has a negative effect on their academic achievement. Children who are overage for their grade are more likely to drop out of school."

The Grade Retention Fallacy (Harvard Civil Rights Project [now The Civil Rights Project UCLA]) "Research tells us that fear and humiliation are not the strongest motivators for struggling students."

Ending Social Promotion
(U. S. Department of Education) "Neither social promotion nor retention is appropriate for students who do not meet high academic standards."

Early Intervention Works, Grade Retention Doesn't ( University of Wisconsin )

Exploring the Association Between Grade Retention and Dropout ( California School Psychologist)

Back to Top

Meet Sue Whitney

Sue Whitney of Merrimack, New Hampshire, is the research editor for Wrightslaw.

Sue is the co-author of Wrightslaw: No Child Left Behind (ISBN: 978-1-892320-12-4) that is published by Harbor House Law Press.

In Doing Your Homework, she writes about reading, research based instruction, No Child Left Behind, and creative strategies for using federal education standards to advocate for children and to improve public schools. Her articles have been reprinted by SchwabLearning.org, EducationNews.org, Bridges4Kids.org, The Beacon: Journal of Special Education Law and Practice, the Schafer Autism Report, and have been used in CLE presentations to attorneys. Sue Whitney's bio.

Sue has served on New Hampshire's Special Education State Advisory Committee on the Education of Students/Children with Disabilities (SAC) and has been a volunteer educational surrogate parent. She currently works with families as a special education advocate.

Copyright © 2002-2015 by Suzanne Whitney.

Revised: 02/27/15

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