Why Retain? It Didn't Work the First Time

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March 17, 2009

ISSN: 1538-3202

Issue: 477
Subscribers: 68,393

In This Issue:

The Real Issue: Reading

The Definition of Reading

Don't Allow the School to Retain Your Child

Sample Letter to Request the School NOT Retain Your Child

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The Wrightslaw Way Blog

One Reason Kids Aren't Learning to Read

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What Happens Next on Special Ed Regs?


Contact Info

Pete and Pam Wright
Wrightslaw & The Special Ed Advocate
P. O. Box 1008
Deltaville, VA 23043



Copyright 2009, Peter W. D. Wright and Pamela Darr Wright. All rights reserved. Please do NOT reprint or host on your web site without explicit permission.

In the Special Ed Advocate, February 24, 2009, Pam Wright wrote about the discredited approach of "waiting to fail." Schools often use this approach to retain students who cannot read.

We've heard from many parents who were concerned about retention and reading problems.

Michelle wrote,

"The school wants to retain my son. He is in kindergarten with an IEP. His latest DIBELS test shows him to be at moderate risk of failure in some areas and high risk in others.

I've read that retention is not a good option and that any short term gains disappear in the long run.

The principal says that he has 'recent' research that shows the benefits of retention. He says the recommendations for phonological awareness instruction is too new to show the long term benefits of retention."

In this issue of the Special Ed Advocate, Sue Whitney, Research Editor at Wrightslaw, responds to Michelle's fear that her son will not learn to read. You'll also find an excellent sample of a retention letter you can use to request the school not retain your child, if that is the school's plan.

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Please don't hesitate to share this issue with other families, friends, and colleagues.

The Real Issue: Reading

If your child could have learned to read with the type and level of instruction he is currently receiving, he would have already learned to read.

The principal, who says retention is beneficial, is just attempting to take the focus off the real issue.  Your child has not learned to read even after several tiers of increased intensity of instruction.

1. You should copy the National Association of School Psychologist's (NASP) position statement on grade retention to clarify the retention discussion.

2. Write a letter requesting a complete evaluation to determine if your child has a disability.
Go to this Parent Information Center website to find sample letter requesting an evaluation. On the left hand column, click on "Special Education" and then click on "Sample Letters."

Read Sue Whitney's article Why Retain? It Didn't Work the First Time.

Co-author of Wrightslaw: No Child Left Behind, Sue Whitney writes Doing Your Homework, a series of articles about reading, research based instruction, school improvement, and creative advocacy strategies.

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The Definition of Reading

The term 'reading' means a complex system of deriving meaning from print that requires all of the following:

(A) The skills and knowledge to understand how phonemes, or speech sounds, are connected to print.

(B) The ability to decode unfamiliar words.

(C) The ability to read fluently.

(D) Sufficient background information and vocabulary to foster reading comprehension.

(E) The development of appropriate active strategies to construct meaning from print.

(F) The development and maintenance of a motivation to read.

20 U.S.C. § 6368 (5) Wrightslaw: No Child Left Behind, p. 241.

Reading Resources

Florida Center for Reading Research

This is information on what an appropriate reading evaluation should contain.

The National Center for Learning Disabilities has an excellent checklist to use to refine your concerns and to help you ask the referral team to investigate all areas of concern.

The American Federation of Teachers website has an excellent article about the need to avoid delay in getting appropriate instruction, Preventing Early Reading Failure.

Framework for Informed Reading and Language Instruction: Matrix of Multisensory Structured Language Programs. This publication from the International Dyslexia Association explains different reading programs and what they cover. These programs, when properly implemented, have been successful in teaching students to read, write, and use language.

4 Great Definitions of Reading in No Child Left Behind

Reading at Wrightslaw

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Don't Allow the School to Retain Your Child

The principal is incorrect. Research does not indicate there are benefits to retention.

Retention is not an appropriate intervention. There is clear evidence that retention does not work - and that it damages children.

Review the article "Waiting to fail" Instead of Teaching a Child to Read.

Insist that the school use a research based reading program that is implemented by a highly skilled, trained reading teacher.

If you are dealing with a retention problem, you must educate yourself before you can advocate for the child. Download and read these articles at Retention and Social Promotion.  

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Sample Letter to Request the School NOT Retain Your Child

This sample letter describes a parents' concerns about the school's proposal to retain their child.

The tone of the letter is polite and businesslike. The letter does not blame school personnel or criticize. Instead, the parents describe their concerns about their child's lack of progress, their concerns about the school's proposal to retain her, and propose a solution to the child's problems.

It is an example of how you can use story-telling in letters that document events and describe your concerns. The parents sent this letter after the school proposed to retain their child.

From the sample letter:

"I am unaware of any research that states children with reading disabilities benefit from grade repetition." 

"The decision of Placement is a “team” decision, not the decision of one person.   It is my understanding that one person cannot make a unilateral decision outside of the team process." 

"Although I am opposed to retaining Emma in first grade, I welcome the opportunity to meet with the special education team to learn how the District proposes to provide Emma more intensive services to remediate her reading deficits and/or the possibility of an alternative educational setting which would enable Emma to progress and master the general educational curriculum while receiving intensive instruction to close the gap between her and her nondisabled peers...."

Download a copy of the Sample Retention Letter.

More about advocacy through Writing Letters.

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