May I Have Your Retention?

I said Crystal Ball, not Disco Ball!
So if ever a crystal ball would have come in handy, it would have been this past Wednesday for our Retention talks. What a difficult day this is. Every year! We wax and wane. We go back and forth, what if this, what if that? Is it better to retain in Kinder or first? Or at all? We stress and stress. You know what much of the research says, right? That retention is ineffective and maybe even harmful. What about that handful of kiddos we retained last year? Were they solid retentions? How are they doing now? How will we ever know for sure? And the retention candidates we placed and sent on to the next grade? Were they in over their heads? Did they sink or swim this year? 

Ultimately, we do what's right for kids, but who knows for sure exactly what that is? It differs student by student, that's for sure. Once we retain a student, he or she is considered at-risk. Do you know what that means? Technically, that the student is at-risk for dropping out. Really? Yep. Retain them twice (which we would NEVER do) and they've got like a 100% chance of not graduating. At all. Staggering, I know. But sometimes retaining students gives them a little more time to mature. 

We retained our August boy, for example, in second grade, not because he was behind academically, but because he was struggling socially. We probably should have delayed entry and not even started him because he was actually four when school began that year.  Even though he successfully mastered all of the grade-level skills, he spent his first three years floundering to keep up with his peers behaviorally and emotionally. It was the most difficult decision we ever made and probably the best gift we could have ever given him. Does it make any difference, then, to retain if it's strictly to give them extra time? 

We certainly wouldn't retain if there's a suspected disability that's hindering their success. We also look at size and whether or not there are siblings following closely behind. Sometimes it's a second-language issue that's delaying progress. We look at OLSAT and ITBS scores if we have them.  We also look at intervention data.  And ultimately, we have to ask ourselves if another year of the same is going to help a student catch up. That's where the crystal ball would really come in handy! For clarity. Any way you look at it, it's SUCH a difficult thing to decide. So today I'm wondering this:  What is your school's policy on retaining students? And if you don't really have one, how do you decide to retain or not to retain? 


  1. Any potential retention is given the Lights Retention Scale by the school psych. We also look at academics and maturity. Age/birthdate is also considered. We rarely retain, as you said research does not support it. We have had two successful retentions where the child really made it the following year. However, we had a third that crushed the child's self esteem and that student is not thinking of dropping out of school.

  2. You laid it all out so perfectly. It's such a hard decision to make. I was actually retained in first grade. I went on to be valedictorian, but I know it doesn't always work that way. We do need one of those crystal balls.
    ❀ Tammy
    Forever in First

  3. Retention is def. a tough one. I do however think its the right decision for some.

  4. Tammy, from Forever in First, sent me over to your blog! I totally agree considering to retain or not to retain is a very difficult decision. I am normally on the side of not retaining, but was just this past week involved in a decision to recommend retention. And I still second guess myself if I have done the right thing for the child. It is definitely not taken lightly.
    Conversations in Literacy

  5. Well, well, well. Such a not too fun topic. I teach 6th grade so they either pass or fail. Here's what it's looking like this year for our 53 students in 6th grade.

    5 of them are failing. Out of those 5 all of them have failed before! One of them is supposed to be in the 9th grade(he will actually turn 15 in June). He and another one are LAZY!!! No disability at all! 1 of the girls didn't qualify for special ed-we think because she is a minority.

    It's so sad!


    By the way, I have combined all of my blogs into the one above! To simplify my life hopefully! :)

  6. OHHH you are right such a hard ambiguous topic. We used to have a "pre-first" program in our school that "caught" most of the kids that coming from kindergarten that just needed that extra time to mature. It could have been such a good program, and was in the beginning, but just did not progress with the times. So now we retain, or discuss retention. I am retaining two children this year mostly because of maturity, which is very hard for parents to understand.
    Our lovely state superintendent has made it law that if a child is not reading on grade level (per state test scores, and no other factors) they can be retained up to THREE times in third grade. I might mention our state superintendent is an ex dentist...
    It is a hard topic and an even harder decision.

    First Grade @ Klinger Cafe

  7. In our district, Kinder, 2nd and 4th are retention years, if the students do not pass the required benchmark and or pass their timed math facts test, they are retained. Mind you the benchmark test is a year and a 1/2 below grade level. So if your 2nd grader cannot pass the mid first grade level fiction and non-fiction reading test then they are not ready to move on to 3rd. There are always exceptions and of course parents can fight it (and many often do), but there are some years that we have quite a few being retained, very sad!

  8. I teach at a charter school and we do sometimes recommend retention in K or 1st for kids who are both young and below grade level. We look at emotional, academic, and motor skills. We only had one retention recommendation in first grade this year that met all of our criteria to recommend retention but the parents refused. The child is the youngest son of the PTO president and during Teacher Appreciation week she let me know it was NOT appreciated.

    The other grade we sometimes recommend retention is 8th if they are not ready for high school. We never retain twice. In our state you must graduate high school by 20 which would prohibit kids from retaining more than twice and graduating from a regular high school.


  9. We do not retain. Our district feels the research strongly shows it actually HURTS students and doesn't HELP them - especially when it comes to self-esteem. I am VERY thankful for this policy. Once in a very blue moon there is an exception to this rule. If students are not at grade level - then we have big time interventions in place to help those students grow academically. We teach students at the level they are at while implementing interventions to help them get to expected growth.


I really enjoy hearing from my readers; thanks for sharing your reflections with us!

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