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Retention & FAPE:
What Does the Research Say?

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My son is in a special education Kindergarten program. When I went to a meeting at the school to plan for next year, I was told he does not qualify for placement in a regular first grade class. They say if he is promoted to first grade, he will flounder in a class with 24 children and one teacher and would not get any additional help.

The school wants to retain my child. They say they know what's best for him. I don't know what to do. Should I push to have him promoted and placed in a regular education class?

Wrightslaw Replies

It sounds like the school gave you information about your options in a way that ensured you would make the "right" decision (from the school's perspective).

You were told that your son would "flounder"? The school did not offer to provide the individualized services and supports that they are required to provide?

You may want to revisit this issue with your son's school team. It is not too late to change the plans for next year. But first, you need accurate information about retention.

Support from the National Association of School Psychologists

First, read this short article that summarizes retention issues.

Next, read the article about "Grade Retentiion - Achievement and Mental Health Outcomes" and the Position Statement from the National Association of School Psychologists. According to the National Association of School Psychologists, retention is not helpful and actually damages children.

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

Sixth grade students rated grade retention as the single most stressful life event, higher than the loss of a parent or going blind. Retained students are less likely to receive a high school diploma by age 20, receive poorer educational competence ratings, and are less likely to be enrolled in any post-secondary education program. Retained students receive lower educational and employment status ratings and are paid less per hour at age 20.

National Association of School Psychologists. Retention and Promotion: A Handout for Parents (2007).

"Research does not support the notion that retention helps children to 'catch up' and that 'social promotion' - sending children on to the next grade regardless of performance – pushes children through the school system without requiring mastery of basic skills.”

National Association of School Psychologists. Position Statement on Student Grade Retention and Social Promotion (2003).

“The National Association of School Psychologists promotes the use of interventions that are effective and research-based and discourages the use of practices which, though popular or widely accepted, are neither not beneficial or are harmful to the welfare and educational attainment of America’s children and youth. 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.”

You should also read "Retention is Not the Answer" by a North Carolina school psychologist. This comprehensive article discusses retention and social promotion.

Don't forget to check our Retention & Social Promotion page for newly updated resources.

In light of the Position Statement from the National Association of School Psychologists, I hope the school psychologist will support you in revoking your decision.

Your Strategy

After you read these articles, think about the issues. From your letter, it sounds like your son needs individualized instruction so he can master the basic skills.

If you decide you do not want the school to retain your child, write a letter to the IEP team and ask them to meet with you before school begins to resolve this issue. Be sure to include copies of these articles from National Association of School Psychologists with your letter.

Good luck!

Learn About Retention & Social Promotion

Learn About IEPs

Learn About Free Appropriate Education (FAPE)

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