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.

  1. I have a first grade son who has an IEP and pretty involved with PT, OT, Speech and vision services. He is reading near grade level, but struggling in math and writing. Most literature seems to be against retention. Is there any literature to support it for children already identified who they think will benefit from one more year of the foundational skills? We would hate to seem him frustrated in second grade but do worry about the social implications…

    • Ann R – Questions to consider:

      What specific “foundational skills” will your son benefit from if he repeats? What is the school doing now to help him in math and writing? If your son didn’t “get it” this year, will doing the same thing again make a difference? If he struggles now, what is the specific plan for next year if he is retained? Is there a plan for individualized special instruction that will help him master the basic math and writing skills he needs? Is this instruction/intervention research-based and proven effective? Does your son’s IEP have math and writing goals? Are the goals and the IEP appropriate and SMART? Has the IEP team determined what individualized services and supports will be provided to allow your son to participate in the general curriculum with his peers? Would tutoring or individualized instruction during ESY be appropriate to keep him at grade level?

      You may need to get an independent expert involved. This person can evaluate your son, help you realistically determine his unique needs and what is required to meet these needs. Data from the evaluation can help you make this important decision. Repeating a grade with no changes in services, supports, or how the instruction is delivered generally has the same affect. Good luck with a tough decision.

      Find more information on the Retention page at

  2. I am looking into retaining my 4th grader. He will have his tri-annual evaulation in February and to my knowledge is still performing at the same level he was in 1st grade (mid-K for reading, writing, and math). He is just now (in the past 2 months) beginning to show some progress. He is in a therapeutic school that is year round and is mixed age (he is the youngest in his class, children up to 13 in the same group). I think it’s the perfect time to retain him as he is not aware of his grade level and peers aren’t changing at the end of the school year anyway. He is SO far behind that I feel this is the only option to give him a chance to get close to grade level. He has a 1:1 (for the past 2 years) and has been tested for learning disabilities with nothing ‘standing out’ for a diagnosis or direction. I think it’s the right thing.

  3. My son has finished HS when he was 17 and we regret for sending him to College after that. He did well and is working on his PhD now but he would have done so much better would he have a year off after HS. Kids need maturity and when they come to college and live on their own if they are not mature enough they get lost. I have done my Internship in a College counseling center and counceled numerous freshman who wanted to drop our of college just because they were not ready. I would not keep my son in 11th gr. for another year, that would only hurt his self esteem, but after he finishes HS don’t rush sending him off to college. He could find a job, take one or two classes, learn another language and take it easy.

  4. My son just turned 16 and is a junior in high school. He was able to start school early due to his high test scores, so he has always been the youngest in his class. My son does not have a problem with academics as he is in AP classes and makes A’s and B’s when he really applies himself. The problem we have is his maturity level. Sometimes I feel bad that I allowed him to start school early. Please help! He is frustrated too because he just does not know where he fits in. My ex-husband feels we just have him repeat the 11th grade. Please advise as I want to make the best decision for my son.

    Thank you,

  5. I sent my child to kindergarten at six years of age. I knew that my child was not ready for kindergarten at five so I sent him to a private kindergarten. The school district knew about this and failed to use child find (that is a separate issue as I did not understand his rights until he was 12 year s of age.) Nevertheless not sending my son to kindergarten at 5 years was MY choice and my son is thankful that he has that extra year. He is doing great and going into high school. HOWEVER, I did work in a classroom where a kindergarten teacher, after the third week of school, already knew which students she would retain. Such followed the year as how much intervention and instruction those students received. Note to parents–monitor your child’s progress. Know what is going on and be AWARE.

  6. Our son with Down Syndrome was retained in First Grade per our request. I felt he enjoys and learns better in the setting with younger kids and he is still the smallest boy in his class. His behavior toward peers was very negative -spitting!. So he stopped that the next year and his new peers are much more positive with him. I too agree that he will get more out of the early years and will have his whole adult life to work on the skills he may be working on when he is 18-21 in school and he won’t graduate that much later than his typical classmates. I would not do it in later grades when he may be more likely to be aware of it.

  7. I really have to question the across the board negativity that seems to b the norm here around retention.

    I fought to have our our daughter held back twice in elementary and I think it’s the best thing we’ve ever done. She is mentally challenged and ASD and now at age 18 and Grade 10, in many ways she functions at the level of an 8 year old; but behaviourally it’s like having a semi-typical teenage with the emotional reguatation and communication skills of a pre-teen (or younger). Because she was so much younger cognitively and emotionally than her peers, it just seemed logical to keep her with a younger group of kids as much as possible. After all, she will stay in school until she is 21 and I would much rather have those extra years at the elementary level (where inclusion is much easier to pull off) than in high school.

  8. I have a set of 5 year old triplets with developmental delay. The IEP team has suggested retention because they are not reading on the correct level and my son is behind in maturity. I am trying to decide whether to accept their decision or fight it. What is the best option. They are in Kindergarten and would be returning to their same class. They will be 6 the week school starts.

  9. Interesting cases BUT the decision to retain a student is individualized. The following are several considerations.
    First, the student’s child development should to be the average of his/her peers in the classroom. As a Special Needs (Moderate) teacher, and now a private practice advocate, I have direct experience with both retained students who thrive on this placement; and, other retained students who waste the year developing lazy study habits and low self-esteem.
    Age is another important factor. Sometimes, even the size of the student needs consideration. Whether Special Education or regular education, it’s all about the whole child.

  10. We retained our daughter in first to the objection of the principal and her teacher and it was the best thing we could have done for her. She thanked us at the end of the year. She really needed the year to mature further and she needed the academic basic work again. We are so glad that we hung tough. It was really worth it. You know best.

  11. Ashlee – My husband was retained in first grade for the reason you have mentioned. His birthday is August and he was too young to do well. He is 59 years old, and remembers being retained to this day. His friends made fun of him, and he hated school until he finally graduated. He is still angry about it. It is better to hold the child back before entering school than to retain. I did this for 2 out of my 3 children and they never knew they were being held back.

  12. I work at a private school and while I wouldn’t say we use retention often, we certainly have and continue to suggest it for some parents. We have found that many students who find themselves on the young side of the age spectrum, do not have learning disabilities that are prohibiting them from being successful, they are simply to young to perform at the same level of their students. As a school, we feel that retention should be seen as “the gift of a year” for those children that will benefit from it, and the earlier on in their education as possible.

  13. Rashita – Based on what you told me I would not want to retain your son either. Yes, you can request that the school promote him and they should followup with more supports for the reading. IF your son is on an IEP then you should meet to have more supports or tutoring, etc put into place. The school can offer ESY (extended school services) to help with regression issues and they must provide transportation as well. My son had reading problems and had ESY every single year for reading for regression and compensatory time. Check into the policies for extended school year so you do not have to pay out of pocket. Many parents do not know what is in place to help their children.

      • Andre,

        ESY is extended school year. Most school typically let out in June and start up again is September. However some students with disabilities need extra time to help them catch up to what their peers are learning. So some go to school in summer to work on mastering IEP goals and benchmarks.

  14. I have a 7 year old son. His teacher wants to retain him in 2nd grade because of his reading. Someone told me that i have the right to request that he be promoted to the 3rd grade. He passed all other subjects and he even passed all parts of the CRCT. I don’t want him to repeat the 2nd grade. I am putting him in a summer program that is focused on improving his reading. What can i do?

  15. My daughter is 5 1/2 with Asperger’s. She is high functioning and has been tested at an above average IQ with age-level or above age-level academic knowledge. Academically, she struggles with handwriting and reading. Since these are emerging skills in kindergarten, she is still age appropriate in these areas. Her main issues are with social skills and focus. We are in the process of getting emotional and behavioral therapy and paying for one-on-one tutoring. She has an IEP. She misses the local school district’s cutoff by 31 days but has completed a state certified kindergarten where her teacher graded her at meeting age level expectations, except in focus and other areas that are directly linked to her diagnosis. The question is: repeat kindergarten or go to 1st grade with supports for her Asperger’s?

  16. I have an IEP meeting next week with school teachers, psychologist, and my child. My child has beed diagnosed with ADHD – grades all F’s and is academically behing 2 yrs. The school psychologist and counselor stated they will not retain my child, because charters school do not do it. My child explain every child is money and the sooner the institution moves the child out of the education system new students come more revenue. It is really sad that most schools are in the profit business instead of teaching our youth, tomorrow’s leaders with learning disabilities. I believe my child will get lost in the system if I do not change school or contact a children’s advocacy agency to provide me with assistance.

  17. As a teacher I am faced with this choice almost every year. Most often our small private school does NOT retain our struggling students. We do not have Special Ed. services available so it comes down to the classroom teacher and parents to differentiate the instruction to best meet that child’s needs. The problem is when the child leaves our elementary and still is not preforming at a level relative to his/her peers. The next school is faced with the same issue, by then retention is not an option.
    I have experienced situations where it was not an academic issue, but a maturity issue and eventually the student understood social ques and caught up to his peers (8th grade) .
    I have also experienced situations where it was and continued to be an academic issue and the student never caught up.

  18. I am having a serious problem reguarding retention. My daughter is 8, she is now in the 3rd grade. she was in a typical mainstream k class. She was then placed in a mild/moderate class for 1 and 2. This year she is a mainstream 3rd grade class with a para for her and 2 others. She is only functioning on a k-1 level. Her work is modified for her and the spec ed teacher works very closely with the reg teacher, however, I feel that she missed out on many of the basics that she needs to move forward. I looked into a private school with a 1:5 ratio with classes specifically for learning differences.They want to put her back to 2nd grade and put her with k for reading to catch her up. she does seem to be missing the fundamentals for reading. she spent the day and loved it, I just don’t know which approach will be best????

  19. Sharon, what specialist or support group should I be looking for? My boys do not have a regular psychologist or anyone they are currently seeing. Wait lists and insurance companies. I am not sure who to contact.

  20. Linda – It is always a tough decision to retain or not. We had opted not to retain either of our sons when we had the opportunity. You must do what you feel is right. When we are in a bind we always seek professional outside help from a specialist or a support group. Perhaps you can look into that.

  21. 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?

  22. 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??

  23. 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.

  24. 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.)

  25. 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?

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

  30. 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

    • Gerrie: Do you know if your son’s reading/language skills have improved this year? Where were his skills at the beginning of last year and end of last year? Are his skills on grade level? You mention help you are providing. What is the school doing to improve his reading and language skills?

      If you don’t know the answers to these questions, you need to get a psycho-educational eval by a psychologist or educational diagnostician in the private sector. A good evaluation will help you make wise decisions on your child’s behalf. If you haven’t done so, read our book, From Emotions to Advocacy. Read the two chapters on educational testing at least three times.

  31. 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

    • Cindy: You are right. Retention will not help this child, especially since the “reason” to retain is to keep him away from a particular group of kids. Please go to our Retention page at

      Scroll down to “Ammunition-Resources from Others.” You’ll find articles and position papers about Retention, including the “Position Statement” from NASP and a report entitled “Grade Retention – Achievement and Mental Health Outcomes” from the National Association of School Psychologists. In “Grade Retention,” 6th grade students rated grade retention as the single most stressful life event, higher than the loss of a parent or going blind.

      Make copies of these papers and provide them to members of the child’s IEP team. A child with Asperger’s Syndrome is going to have a hard time in school without the added humiliation of being retained.
      IEP team.

  32. 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?

  33. 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?

  34. 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.

  35. 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

  36. 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?

  37. 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!

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