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 retained my daughter in the 5’th grade She was always the youngest in her class and always struggled, about one year behind, The school talk me out of it for two years saying she doesn’t need to be retained, and basically NO! Honestly I didn’t know then..but it’s the parents decision. I’m glad I did it, turned out to be a positive thing for her

    • Where does it show it is the parents choice? No one will let me hold my son back!! He started kindergarten early and is too young to move to 6th grade middle school we moved specifically so he could redo 5th!

    • I’m so glad to be reading this. FINALLY, someone on my side. lol Yes, it is ultimately the parents’ decision. We are moving schools to an Arts School and my son will be repeating 1st grade. He has a full IEP and is VERY behind his peers. I can’t POSSIBLY imagine him succeeding at all as a 2nd grader next year. Research shows it’s not beneficial, that it won’t help…but what if it DOES? At least I will have tried everything. He is so far behind in all subjects and in the 1st percentile for math and the 3rd percentile for reading….what IF an extra year boosts him up? If even just in his confidence. I need to give it a try.

  2. 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?

  3. 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.

  4. 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?

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. My daughter is being retained in the third grade. During the middle of the school year I requested an evaluation be done to place her in special education because she wasn’t getting good grades. I was informed that the school was already evaluating a lot of other kids and it would take some time. She took both nys math and reading tests. Failed the math went to summer school only for 19days. The school didn’t offer to have her retake the exam. I as a parent was worried that she wasn’t going to pass but the school never did the requested evaluation. Im writing an appeal.

  8. Today was my daughters first day of school. I’m not happy today because my daughter was retained in first grade. Through out the school year (she actually started going to that school in @ mid November) the teacher never requested a conference and never warned me about her progress!!! NO WARNING!! …and my daughter also attended summer school and still was retained! Most important is that I don’t agree with the school’s decision, my daughter completed her first grade and is wrongfully being retained.

  9. Hi my son is 15 years old diagnosed with autism since he was 8 month’s old. He was not allowed to his graduation ceremony from High school, according to the principal he had not returned a book that was given to him at the beginning of the school year. Ironic because his math level wouldn’t allow him to use that book anyway, but the teacher said that he gave it to him. My son has an IEP. Could someone help me please. I can not get over it yet that my son was not allowed to a first time graduation that he was ever aware of due to his disabilities. Thank you.

  10. My kid came home today and told me that she is retained, got called stupid and was laughed at. I am furious because I was not told about this. I didnt get a letter, a phone call, or sign anything. She doesn’t want to go to school at all now. I am pretty sure some laws were broken. What do I need to do? This is wrong. If she was failing I would have sent her to summer school or anything. They cant just hold her back and not tell me about it. Dont they know what they just did to her mind. She will never like school now because of this. What’s the answer?

  11. Hi Jessica, we are going to need more info. Does your son have a disability? Why do you or the school feel he needs to be retained? Did he fail a class or more than one? If he has an IEP, what does it look like?

  12. NC charter school decided to retain my kindergartner without any formal testing. He developed “school refusal disorder” the second half of last school year. He missed 93 days but did all work sent home and I homeschooled him. The Board of Directors for the school just decided in a closed session that they cannot hear an appeal from me because the decision by the principal is final.

    He can read, write phonetically, count to well over 100, knows all colors, shapes, letters, letter sounds. What could he possibly learn from repeating kindergarten. All of the research is against this decision by his school. They say he is “socially not ready” but have not had him in class since February of last year.

    Any help or advice on moving forward would be appreciated. Do I have any recourse? He has no learning disability .

    • I’m going through my little girl being retained myself and she can do everything that your child can do I cannot understand how this could help my child either but it looks like I have no choice because the principal is going to do whatever the teacher recommends so no matter what I say or or try to prove he is going to back his teacher up no how smart my little girl is?

      • They tried this with my grandson in K-5. I wrote the teacher a note saying I disagree and will not let him be retained. I had to go to the district in SC. The principal tried everything. She was even rude to me about it in the summer. She said two weeks into first grade I fear the teacher will come to me and say he needs to be in kindergarten. It didn’t happen. I took him to a pediatric doctor in behavior beds. He said he read the K-5 teacher questionnaire. She made it sound like he does not know anything but he surprised me because I didn’t know what I was getting. My grandson has high anxiety and ADHD along with learning disabilities. The doctor said he will shut down if he gets anxious and they want get anything out of him. He may have to be taught something 40 to 50 times.

  13. My son was retained last year, he is now doing his second year in grade 1, the teacher says he is now failing,but he passed terms one and two with amazing marks. Can he be held back in the same grade for a third year? I’m very worried about this.

  14. Mom of 4: REALLY, they can’t do whatever they want. I don’t know which bill you are speaking of, state???perhaps, but you need to get a copy of it and read it. My question is, are they going to follow it or not? Can’t follow only part of it. Further there is no research that demonstrates retention works. Next, why is your son not learning to read in the SCHOOL’S program? Does he have some sort of learning disability or is the school’s reading program ineffective? Read the law you mention then ask the questions, be nice but ask IN WRITING! Does your son have an IEP? If so, is the program being used to remediate him working and is it right for him? How much progress has he made? If we retain kids until they can read on grade level, without providing appropriate remediation, we will eventually have 3rd graders with drivers licenses!

  15. The school is wanting to retain my son because his reading level is 3 tenths below mandated level. He was tested today and Ive not heard if he made the 3 tenths up or not. His grades are good.. A’s and B’s maybe an occasional C. He has a twin brother that will be going on to the next grade. We were not told of them wanting to retain him until school had been out for a month. They did not give him a reading assessment at the end of the school year and did not offer summer school reading like it states they have to do in Senate Bill 319 (which is the bill they are saying gives them the right to hold him back). I feel holding him back would hurt him more than help. I think with extra tutoring and us reading with him at home he will be reading at grade level. Do I have any rights? The principal told me he can hold back any student he wants

  16. I had my son held back in 1st grade because the teacher he had was a first year teacher right out of college. A lot of issues I was catching at home with him doing homework, she wasn’t noticing. After several conferences with the teacher and I, she finally implemented and IEP, 2 months before the school year was over with. I didn’t feel it would be beneficial to my son to continue on if he doesn’t have the basics yet. Holding him back, helped him, he was a little more mature and did 100% better the next time around with a different teacher. I’m not solely against holding your child back, as long as you know your child and work with them. You can’t soley rely on the word of some teachers especially if they have large class sizes; children can easily be overlooked.


    Educate yourself on the Wrighslaw website. Talk to the state advocacy center. Keep any data/ written observations on his reading habits this summer, number of books he has read, reading strengths and difficulties, etc. Create your own report to give to the school though it would be informal. If the school gave you any reading resources for the summer, did your son complete them? The school has enough data, in their opinion, to retain him. What does that data tell you and what does it look like? Such data can alert you to any further issues, etc, An evaluation seems warranted and all you have to do is put the request in writing to start the process. In your case, the letter may indicate to the administrators that you are now “aware” and they may work with you in a more collaborative manner,

  18. My husband and I don’t want my son to repeat 2nd grade again but the school board said it’s up to the principal and they are just giving me the run around. my son has never been on pmp plan or on a SAI program please I need help. I am not going anywhere with the school board in Florida or the principal.

  19. My husband and I are wanting to retain my daughter. She was diagnosed with Bipolar in November and the school did not get her IEP in place until March of this year. She has failed the state test for Math for two years in a row, plus she has a 54 for an average this year. And that is with the Math teacher giving her a forced 70 for the last 6 weeks. Everyone at the school keeps telling me that she needs to go to high school.But why? I understand that it could and probably hurt her self esteem. But what do you do about the real world. Because they are not going to let her pass if she can not or will not do the work.

  20. I would please like to find out if my son can be made to repeat grade 6 if he passes all his subjects but gets rated 2 for maths

  21. The system has failed my child. My daughter has had a 504 plan in place since the 1st grade, she is in 3rd. This is the second time, second state that has denied us placing her in the previous grade. Her progress although it has been minimal progress she has still meet the criteria to be placed, not promoted, and passed to the next grade for 2 year. Where is the line and where do they stop and see that it is not beneficial to the child to continue moving ahead? I can spend hours on one problem to try and help her understand. Reading is the foundation to learning, if my child cannot read, she cannot grow. She has 30 minutes a day with a reading specialist and 30 minutes of Lexia and has reading time before and after school. She is progressing but at a year behind. Each individuals learning is different and should be adjusted per child.

  22. Already talked to a lawyer. Now they are finally looking into a full IEP for him. Thank you for your help! It is nice to know we are not alone.

  23. Jennifer, I feel your frustration. It may be time to get legal advice. Has the school put their decision in writing via a prior written notice? They need to do this & you can ask for it. This may open the door for renegotiation.


    I started my daughter in kindergarten at six years old. It has paid off in many ways. First, the school district did not fully service her once she entered special education. Two, it gave her an extra year of maturity. Three, it demonstrated to me how the school district failed her in many ways, regardless of her age. All is resolved now. I am glad that I did not send her to kindergarten at five years of age. I trusted my instincts. I have met many parents who started their kids a little later in kindergarten. Though, I would advise getting advice as my case is unique to her needs (LD) and each child is different. A well seasoned teacher gave me the advice to wait to send her to kindergarden. It was a blessed decision.

  25. Yes, but the school will not give him the IEP even though we have proven he has a medical diagnosis. They say that because he is passing (d’s really?) that they will not write the IEP. This has been a fight with the system since 3rd grade. Even though I am a teacher in the system, my son is still not getting what he needs.

  26. Jennifer, have you had your son evalulated for special ed services under IDEA? My son was on a 504 for ADHD,LD & we felt like he really did not get the services he needed. We requested a multifactored evaluation & signed the school’s consent form. Remember until you sign the consent form the 60 day time frame does not kick in & the school does not have to do the testing without the consent form. Once the testing is done you will sit down with the team to decide if he qualifies to be on an IEP. There is also an OHI (other health impaired) IEP for items like ADHD, medical concerns. I went to the board office & got the information on how to apply for an OHI IEP. I believe that the school has done more for our son when he was on an IEP then when he was on a 504 plan. The laws are different for both.

  27. Our son is currently making C’s and D’s in 7th grade. He has a 504 due to probable brain damage that may have been caused in a foster home or due to being addicted to drugs at birth. He has problems with short and long term memory and failed his last state test in math. We asked the school to retain him so that he can get the information he needs to succeed later. The school denied this request. This is not the first time we have had issues with this school to even get the help we need for our child. Sometimes the teachers follow the 504, but more often than not we see that they are not following it. We are also having issues with the teachers giving us his grades in a timely manner, usually a month later, but they are willing to give 0’s for late work. We know he needs help, but we can’t seem to get the school to do so. Any ideas?

    • Yes you can! If the school denies it fight it to the superintendents office it’s your choice, this happened to me as I am not holding my daughter back after two years of the school denying it I’m very glad that I did it now, it has really benefited her, but do your research

      • Please help. I had my appeal with BOE superintendent to be denied 3rd time.
        I have been trying since 9/2015 . My son dob 9/7/2008 will entering 3rd at age 7.
        He is the youngest , smallest and had difficulty socialize with his grade.
        He is probably the youngest and I feel like he would be happier going o school with kids his age. His reading is good, math so so, motion skills is weak and speech is unclear but at the same time he is very smart and only reading level is on high side.

  28. My son does not know his long division and he transferred schools,the middle school he was in passed him to the eighth grade and I wanted to hold him back because he is struggling in math. He went back to school for a week and he went back in the seventh grade. I had a meeting with the principal and he decided he should go into the eighth grade and I dont feel like he is ready to advance and he doesnt either. Do I have any rights about him being advanced to the next grade? I would appreciate any advice you could give me with this situation.

  29. I am looking for information about retention in a private school. My son is in 3rd grade and has received A’s, B’s, C’s in all his classes. He has a Student Support Plan and it has been followed, but retained him. We are switching schools. How do I approach the new principal about having him promoted because of the passing grades?

    I need any advice I can get.

  30. I’ve requested for my son to be evaluated ever since K. my son’s birthday is Feb, he’s 7 already in the 1st grade. He was lacking a little, his teacher told me not as proficient as he should be so without even discussing the matter with me any further his teacher she waited at the last minute in wrote on my sons report card that she didn’t think one more year of 1st grade is going to hurt him so she retained him. I had told his teacher that retaining a child is not always the answer to every solution. I told her that I didn’t agree with her decision and that I dont want my son to be retained. His teacher was supposed to have had another meeting to discuss my son and what would be best for him but we never had another meeting. What are my rights?

  31. We are fighting with the school district to retain our 6th grade son. He does have an IEP (auditory process disorder) but we are not doing it for academic reasons, we know school is just going to come hard. We want to do it for social, emotional and physical. He is young for his class and doesn’t relate and never has to his peers. He has always gravitated to the class behind him. None of the research includes this situation. The school is not allowing us and it is very frustrating when we his parents know what is in his best interest and he also has stated he wants to do it. Please help if you have any experience in this.

    • You need to fight it you know your child better than the school does! This happened with my daughter to I thought the school on it it went to the superintendents office but it is the parents choice

  32. My son is 12, he is in 6th grade, the school wants to retain him. He has been having problems keeping up with his classmates since he was in 1st grade, I never relized that he might have problem. He recently was diagnosed with ADD, after fighting with the school they finally put a 504 in place about two months before school end, by then he was already faling due to uncomplete classwork. can I do anything for the school to consider promotion? his CRT’s are at grade lavel and in some subjects above grade. I have been researching and nowhere in it states that my son will benefit from retention to the contrary he will damaged, emotionally, socially and academically. Please help with any advise. I have a conference scheduled to persuade them for promotion.

  33. I have a 9 year old daughter that has seemed to struggle in school from day 1. It was until last year that we got a diagnosis of ADD without hyperactivity. She started medication and tutoring and rec’d mods in classroom. There was an immediate improvement. However, after a little while the meds didn’t seem to be working as well. We have a tutor and modifications and changed meds. She now has B’s and C’s but I still feel like she is too behind as she struggles with every subject. Her mods include eliminating her options so she now has a 50/50 chance of choosing the right answer. She is smaller than the other children and I want to retain her to give her time to mature and attempt to catch up from the previous years that she seemed to just “slip through” regardless of grades and struggles. Am I making the right decision?

  34. My son is a young 8 yr old in 3rd grade with learing difficulties in math and reading and has an IEP in place. When he started this school year, he was doing 1 & 2nd grade curriculum. He now is at 2nd grade. He does no 3rd grade work. I am considering retention for him so he can catch up and actually do 3rd grade work next year and be ready for 4th grade. I am concerned about him socially however.

  35. This is my second year in a row fighting to have my daughter retained. She is supposed to move to Middle School next year and is in no way ready. She is already in a multi age program and doesn’t connect with any kids her age or even in her class. She is about 4 years behind in academics and social aspects and doesnt seem to make much progress in either. Is retention whats best or is she too far behind to ever catch up? I feel like retention is the only shot my daughter has at ever having a social life with class mates, but am I wrong for holding her back?

  36. Speaking on behalf of my son’s experience, retention certainly delayed getting the correct intervention for my son. I had my son repeat Kindergarten. After the second year, we had a diagnosis of Dyslexia. For my son, this retention does bother him. It does and will have an emotional toll on him. The question on retention should remain – if the student did not succeed and meet grade level expectations…why? Will another year of the ‘same” make a difference? For my son, it did not. He was severely behind grade level expectations after the second year in Kindergarten. Good luck!

    • Teacher retaining in first grade against my wishes but teacher lied and said i agreed. It was summer and too late to appeal.They put him with a first grade teacher addicted to prescription drugs. It destroyed my son.The school failed no child left behind. I was able to move him to another school and he did great. The teacher never voiced any concerns throughout year. He is a senior in high school and still talks about how it hurts him. This is a County School District in SC. They tried the same thing with my grandson but I fault them all the way to the district. They tried to say i didn’t have legal right until I showed them custody papers. They never gave him any help in K5 but tried to fail him. No testing or anything. They tried fight me on evaluating him until I went to the district.

  37. Retention does not and has never made a disability go away. However, in cases where children, especially boys, have July, August and September birthdays, I have seen that repeating kindergarten, or just waiting a year, has sometimes given them a boost. They still had the same learning issues, but had they also had another year to develop. I am absolutely against retention other than for the age and later than kindergarten.

    How I wish that no one could walk into kindergarten until the age of six!

  38. My daughter has PDD-NOS. We lived in PA through my daughter’s first 2 years of preschool. Her birthday is in June. We had already decided that she would be better off waiting one more year to start kindergarten. However my husband took a temporary duty assignment in CO. The school district’s policy was that they don’t retain preschoolers for any reason. If I didn’t send her to kindergarten then she would lose her OT and Speech services. I felt these were essential for her I let them tell me what was “best” for my daughter. That was a huge mistake. She was behind for all of kindergarten, and has completely fallen apart in 1st grade to the point where now she will start receiving 4 hours of academic support for reading, writing, and math. One more year of preschool would have given her a better foundation for the years ahead.

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