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Retaining Kindergartners


A new national study raises questions about holding kindergartners back from promotion to 1st grade. According to the report, making struggling students repeat a grade can have an adverse effect.

Critics, however, argue that "social promotion"—the practice of passing students to the next grade despite poor grades and test scores—hinders efforts to improve public schools.

Is retention an appropriate or effective practice at this age? What measures can districts take to prevent struggling kindergartners from getting held back? Tell us what you think.

Join our discussion forum.


I suppose it would depend on why a child would be retained. There are arguments on both side of the fence here that are quite valid. I do believe each child is unique and different. If a child is struggling and unable to do what is expected, then in my opinion, the sooner they are kept back perhaps the better for the child. I have a daughter who is in the 6th grade, she is currently struggling. I wish I had kept her back in the early years. I do believe she would be better off emotionally, academically and socially. I am having her assessed now, but hopefully what is learned is something we can work on for the rest of her education. I do believe that emotionally and socially children need to be ready to be promoted, if not, then they need time to develop. Not all children learn at the same rate and do need more time, so why not give them the time by allowing them another year in the same grade. That's our answer in traditional American schools, unless a child can move up when they are ready, then perhaps keeping them back is one viable solution to giving them more time. There is no one clear cut answer, to blanketly say no child should stay behind regardless of age, is ridiculous. I use to work in a school here in Hawaii where we had a developmental and academic kindergarten. The students were tested upon entrance and then grouped according to test scores and observation of the perspective teachers. Some children got to go to 1st grade if they were in the developmental kindergarten class, however the system was designed to have children go to kindergarten for two years if need be. Both classes were academic to a degree with a little less structure in the developmental class. It was a great system and I do believe it is still in existence today. Why can't we try something like that in our country. I know here in Hawaii we are trying to do a Jr. Kindergarten next school year, it will be implemented across the state. We shall see how it is handled, I hope as well as the program I experienced several years ago, although that program was in a private school setting. Each situation is unique and there is not one clear cut answer that would fit all children all the time.

Our school serves a mix of half ELL and half native speakers of English using the IB method. After the state implimented the forced retension of 3rd graders, we started retaining a number of kids that we thought would be better off with one more year of the Kindergarden type instruction. The jury is still out--but we have met with little resistance from parents who clearly see the value of giving their children more low stress time to listen to English before we demand that they start reading and writing it in 1st grade. It is the Americans that stress over whether it will hurt the child's self esteem.

I also live in a state that has mandatory retention in third grade if the state test is not passed. We also do not have social promotion. If a student has not passed kindergarten we may not send them onto to first grade unless there is just cause like the student has an IEP. We also start school August 1st and the cut-off date for beginning kindergarten is September 1st. We have many students that enter kindergarten at the age of four. While academically they may have the skills to perform well, they may not have the life experience to perform well socially with students that are six months to a year older than them. Some of our parents prefer if their child is put into first grade while others will request a child be retained. I had a student who was performing very well academically but was extremely immature. The parents withdrew the child and began kindergarten again the following year. The child was much happier and was able to keep up with her peers socially.

I have recently had a personal experience with this situation. My nephew has come to live with me and I was led to believe he had successfully completed kindergarten in another state. Yet, once entering first grade, he struggled to the point that he was hating school,having nightmares and stress beyond belief. I made the decision to have some diagnosic testing done, and found out his academic progress was well below the norms in many areas (especially writing). I have put him back in kindergarten, and he is SO happy. His handwriting is beautiful and he is having success! There are no more nightmares and he can't wait until I get home every day to work on his homework! Going to school at the appropriate level is crucial! I am confident that MASTERY of concepts must be the determing factor for promotion, not the strict structure of the current program in MOST public schools in the U.S. I would love to see a grading system that allowed free movement as concepts were grasped at the mastery level and grading and "GRADES: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.) were done away with! This is archaic, as is the 9 month calendar which originated with the agrarian society. How many of us plant and harvest during the 11 week break of summer? I do wonder sometimes.......

Generally speaking, I do not agree with the retention of students in kindergarten or first grade. As with other decisions that must be made on a "case by case" basis, many factors must be evaluated. The current education landscape causes us to more carefully consider retention at the end of the second grade, the third grade being the first "testable" grade and a gateway for promotion in North Carolina.

The pressures that our society has put on 5 year olds! They begin school with a huge range of social, academic and developmental backgrounds. Kindergarten teachers are expected to reach each child as an individual, which in my case can be 20 to 24 students. This is a difficult task. There are skills that each child must must master each nine week grading period regardless of their level. By the end of the year, those who have not mastered 80% of these skills, (with several skills requiring mastery) must be retained in Kindergarten. I can see how having students screened before entering school and creating a "Developmental" classroom for those just developing schoool skills, would increase success rate of those children as well as the learning rate of the students who are ready. Maybe someday early learning will become a priority to everyone!

When we were able to support it fiscally we created an intervention 1st grade that was highly successful in filling in the social/emotional/academic gaps for K students who may have otherwise been retained. We limited the class size to 12 students and regularly scheduled support personnel for the students as inclusion (e.g., speech therapists, Occupational Therapists, guidance counselors for Positive behavior Support, Title tutoring in reading and math, etc.) We collected data to use for Intervention Assistance Team meetings and we worked closely with parents to support growth at home. We taught 1st grade standards to the students. At least 50% of the students were at grade level and ready for 2nd grade by the end of the school year. Unfortunately, due to lack of funding, we had to disband this program. Early intervention does work when it is configured well and has the personnel available to provide intervention in a timely manner over time.

Give me a break! "New studies" have been done almost yearly since the policy of retaining students was first introduced in the 1920's. Almost every study has indicated that retained students, in the long run, end up academically less capable than students who are allowed to move on. What is needed is extra help for struggling students as they matriculate from grade to grade. Retention only makes matters worse.

At both kindergarten and 1st grade the teacher can usually tell within a few months that a student needs special attention. There should be a strong intervention system where there is a concentration of help in one-to-one education for the student. It can be a combination of trained volunters and professionals.

Although most kindergarten students that are at risk by the end of the year continue to show inadequate progress even with repeating a grade, there are many students that are immature or developmentally delayed that simply need a little more time to grow up. This is particularly true of summer birthday students. Quite often, these students benefit and are able to catch up with another year in kindergarten, and go on to have a successful academic career in school. Sometimes we let data override common sense.

In my district we have implemented a policy of Kindergarten retention. Previously, parents could elect to move their child on to first grade over the recommendation of the kindergarten teacher. For most the retention works. There are a few children who will not benefit from retention. We also have a practice of screening for developmental delays for those children. One thing that plagues us is the wide range of developmental levels (mostly from experience or lack thereof) of children who have had some type of preschool program. Those in private preschools tend to have much better experiences than those who have attended Head Start. We also have children who have had no preschool experience. Those, generally speaking, are the ones who have the most problems in school.

Retaining Kindergartners is a good thing. If we don't do this it send a message to the child tht we don't care if they learn or not. This carried through to high school and then we graduate children who cannot read or write and are all around socialably unacceptable.

As the CEO of an educational consulting company and 29 years of public education the answer is not complex. No we should not retain based upon a traditional system of educating children. The reason we should not retain is because educators do not exaust all educational solutions for children who struggle we only give up because of limited options. The answer is to exaust all educational solutions such as: elimination of age appropriate grade level entry, promotion based upon limited skill development in one subject or two subjects, provide appropriate testing to determine why children are not progressing as expected, and give teaches the tools to assess and develop children who are struggling. Moving toward a system that expects differences, while exploring all possible educational solutions is the only realistic opportunity toward assisting struggling learners. Skill and concept development is essential to track for the struggling learner because then one can truely focus in on individual needs. Focused progress is critical and essential for the child who is experiencing failure, frustration, and low self esteem. We should spend whatever it cost for early age learners to achieve success. While the cost of providing this type of wrap around opportunity for success is more expensive the alternative is devestating to the retained individual. I won't bore you with the correlations or statistics on non readers but let's just say crime goes up, prisions get built and social support for the unemployable is expensive. Finally if a parent chooses to have their child retained we should honor that requests even if we know the outcomes.

I have seen the results of social promotion and don't feel that it is the answer to student who fail to meet the standards. The real answer, I believe, lies in the fact that we continue to espouse that all students learn at different rates, but expect them to have all mastered the necessary skills for promotion to the next grade level by the end of the school year. Students who are falling behind academically need intensive instruction, smaller class size, our best teachers, and home support if they are to catch up with their peers. The bottom line to the problem is that this takes money on the part of the state and local community and a little innovation on the part of school systems. Until we start addressing those issues this will continue to be a problem.

I don't think that students should be retained in Kg. I come to this thougth because some times Kg is the first time that some students have been enrolled in school. As a nation we do not have national stardards of curriculum meaning what should be taught, standard sight word families, the way to teach students how to sound out and blend sounds together. From my experience is that lower grades such as Kg and 1st grade are craming way too much in. Yes reading is very important and since we know that I don't understand why can't the focus of PreK, Kg and 1st grade be on reading and counting mostly being broken up with music, art and physical fitness.

Giving a child the gift of another year can do wonders. Specifically, retention in Kindergarten can be the best thing for some children. I've been teaching for almost 15 years and have seen it be beneficial first hand. I have also seen children stuggle greatly with social, emotion, and academic issues when parents choose not to listen to the professionals in the school and move their child ahead to first grade anyway. Kindergarten is the best time to retain a student and the best time for the student to grow and mature to appropriate developmental levels without bring the student to the brink of frustration.

i think retention for some is great, i am a new 1st year teacher with a k/1 class amd some of my k's needed to be in pre school but parents don't care, some of them need a growth year ( and most of them are also very young.) Iam also seeing 1st graders who needed some more time and were put a head. i would rather see a student held a year and do well than keep going and not have the skills and be a struggling student for the rest of his/her school years.

A good source for balanced information about retention is a position statement on the website for the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP). As David Wright notes in this forum, considerable data do not support retention as an intervention for a struggling student. And retaining a student without a thoughtful plan about what will be different the second time around can waste time and resources. On an anecdotal level, it is interesting to talk to adults who were "successfully" retained. Some note that there is the lingering sense that somehow they "failed" to progress along with their peers. I know there are probably others who are grateful for their parents' and teachers' decisions to retain but I believe this point is worth considering.

I do not think that we should retain students who struggle with the kdg. curriculum. That's ridiculous! However, I think that in rare circumstances retention is an option. We should screen students coming into kdg. to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses. Students should not be catagorized and placed in tracks but we have a responsibility to support students needs and differentiate their instruction i.e., provide the appropriate instruction that works for each student. A 'one size fits all' mentality doesn't work for all children. I have observed educators engage intervention teachers to reinforce instruction but use the same strategies...it often doesn't work. A lot more of the same is not always a good thing. In our school we often do a great job of identifying a weakness but the prescription is wrong. In two to three years the same students get identified as special education and then the school finally does something different that works. Why? Early elementary educators must realisticly identify the behaviors of the child, communicate with the parents, and provide the right approach for the student (often a multisenory Orton program). Parents also must take responsibility to help their child. I predict that if we do something different in the early elementary years and maintain the passion for learning that we would have many less problems in the intermediate and middle school years. I also want to add that even if the child's IQ is average or above average they may need a different style of learning if weaknesses in certain areas persist. There's a lot of research to review but the most critical piece, in my opinion, is to use common sense, collect data and consider a different approach in learning if what you've tried doesn't work.

Rention of some kindergarteners is a good idea. Some are not ready for first grade at the end of the school year. Sticking them in first grade will frustrate them and lower their self esteem when they are not performing as well as other students in thier class. The school my nephew goes to has Kindergarten 1 and 2. Kindergarten 1 is the kindergarten that everybody goes to into at the beginning of the year. Kindergarten 2 is for those who aren't quite ready yet for First Grade. They reinforce skill mastery for the beginning of the year then they are learning first grade material. My nephew was so scared to go to first grade, but with Kindergarten 2 he was able to be successful and confident. Now he's a straight A third grader. Although rentention may not be for all students, a careful intensive evaluation of those kindergarteners that may need help is necessary.

Early intervention is the answer. Many of our K children come with less background knowledge and spoken vocabulary. If you read Ruby Paynes' work on poverty, you know this is true. Our schools need to do a better job of meeting individual needs early on, using the Intervention Assistance Team as a resource. Appropriate intervention needs to continue through the grades and retention would not be an issue.

It's better to retain a child in pre-K or kindergarten if immaturity or late birthday is an issue. That is, give them more time, but keep the teaching the same. Retention in later years is moot unless we do something different the second time. Doing the same thing again and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity, right?

I do approve of holding children back in Kindergarten, because often their lack of success is just due to a developmental delay, and another year will give them time to catch up. However, I do not approve of holding children back in the grades following Kindergarten, because of the social stigma. These children who are behind should have the benefit of tutoring and resource specialists.

Our district used to have a class called Primary for those students who had completed Kindergarten but were not ready for first grade. Most were immature and needed another year for social growth and development. These students usually outperformed others in later years because of the extra time given to them. The class has been eliminated due to budget constraints and we are beginning to see a difference in the numbers of students that need to be retained later or who are struggling with first, second or third grade. It is much more difficult to convince parents to retain a child than to move them on to an in-between class. If a parent wants them to move on to the next grade, we don't have a choice but to promote them. I feel it is better to retain as young as possible, if it is needed, for self-esteem reasons and effectiveness.

I was retained in 5th grade in Catholic school back in the 60's. I am now almost 50 and can still remember the humiliation of being left back. When peers confronted me about it I denied and lied that that was not what it was called. I repeated the 5th grade in public school and went on to receive A-B-C's in H.S. and made the Dean's list in college. BA in Music Ed.
Looking back, I was still 4 yrs. old that year I started Kindergarten, was too much of a baby and immature and my parents did not view this as an issue. My brother went to K at 4 turning 5 that November so they figured why shouldn't I? I don't believe there was testing back then to determine whether a child was ready for K. The 5th grade was too late to retain me since it was socially unacceptable and just lowered my already low self-esteem and increased my feelings that I was stupid and dumb, etc. Fast forward to 1991, my daughter is an October baby and although she missed the cut off, I still would have decided to hold off sending her to K until she was 5 that September going on 6 that October. Based on my own experience I knew this was the best thing for her. Years later as my youngest son struggled through first and second grade, each year I told the child study team.... if you are going to think about retaining him, do it NOW not when he is in 5th, 6th or 7th grade where the impact of that decision would be devastating to him. Social and peer pressure can make or break a child literally for life.

I do believe that retention at Kindergarten can be appropriate if the student needs that time to mature to deal with the learning he's expected to do. Sometimes 5/6 is just too early to expect children to perform. They need to deal with language and socialization before academics.

I believe that retention in Kindergarten can be appropriate for some children because they may need the time to mature enough to deal with academics. Some children have enough trouble getting used to language and socialization in Kindergarten.

It depends on each child and what other types of intervention have been tried in kdg. or offered in first gr.

As an elementary school principal I am torn on this issue. With K classes of 35 students, as many as 20 primary languages in a class, severe poverty, limited pre-school exposure, and students ranging from 4 to 6 years old, it is nearly impossible for my K teachers to bring every student up to proficiency on the required state content standards. Add to that a lack of parents' able or willing to work with their children at home, and it seems that retention is the only answer. However, in nearly 20 years in education I have yet to see a real success story with a retained student. By the fourth grade most retained student know that they were retained and they work hard to hide this fact from their peers. They struggle socially and do not fit in with the age appropriate students who were not retained. Just yesterday I was talking with a fourth grade boy who is sixth grade age. He is not making it academically despite having been retained and participating in numerous after school intervention programs over the years. He broke down and cried when we talked about his academic and social skills. His retention did not help anything. In fact, I think it has left him worse off than promoting him would have left him. At least he would be with age appropriate peers (and struggling academically) if he was in the correct grade. He has been tested and is not learning disabled, he is just a slower learner than we are allowed to have in schools today! From a developmental standpoint not all students will achieve the state content standards at the same time. This is not a crime or a school failure, it is the reality of human beings as individuals. I played in kindergarten; I did not read and write, and I ended up with a doctoral degree. Something has to give for our kids. In working to bring students to proficiency retention does not seem to work and neither does social promotion. Providing a great deal of small group and/or individualized instruction to students when they enter school seems like a smarter choice, but with the class size that we have, the strings on categorical funds, and the lack of adequate funding, this is not possible. So our students continue to struggle and politicians continue to blame the schools. Until we, the schools and educators, quit being the scapegoat for political campaigns, this will not change.

Nothing is more sad than watching a child's confidence deteriorate because they cannot keep up with their peers. And it is egotistical for an adult to move that child ahead simply because they don't "believe" in retention.

As a parent who made the difficult decision to retain my first grader, I understand the complexity of the issue. I also have come to embrace the decision as one of the best I have ever made.

For some reason, our society and many educators, legislators, administrators and parents have decided that school is a race. It is not. We need to do what is *really* best for our children, which can run contrary to what anyone else thinks. There is so much pressure on schools and teachers to succeed, and children feel it. If a child is simply not ready to matriculate to the next grade, than he/she should not be forced to.

It is neither a badge of shame nor a badge of honor to make the decision to retain a child. It should simply be a well-considered, informed decision based on what is right for the child. There should, however, be adequate support to help that child, his parents and his learning community embrace the decision and implement the best program to support that child's learning needs while fortifying his/her self-esteem.

The reall question is not "Are children ready for school?" but "Are schools ready for children?" If we take the latter approach there would be no need to hold children back in Kindergarten or anywhere else. They could progress through school at a pace that meets their needs and allows them to develop according to their own timetable rather than according to an arbitrary set of rules that state they must be able to do certain things at certain ages.

If children MUST be held back because schools don't adapt to their needs, kindergarten is probably the best time because the children are less aware of the "failure" implied by repeating a year. It might also be useful to have more than one time during a year to start kindergarten so that children can develop school readiness as they are ready.

Are you listening to yourselves, my fellow educators? The discussion should be about what we are doing that even makes the idea of retention for kindergarten students an issue. The issue needs to be why are educators blowing smoke about kindergarten students, when it is educators who put in place the systems, curriculums, demands and expectations that cause students to fail.

Who are you trying to kid with this discussion? We educators are the ones failing, not because we can't do our job, but because we haven't done our job on topics like this. Kindergarten kids fail only if we create a system that allows them to.

So retain us...great thinkers that we are. Keep us all back until we get it right. And while we are keeping ourselves back, throw in the politicans who muck up the brew!

Raise a ruckus, fight the fight, and get better situations for our students!

Let's face it. The most relevant information here is WHY the child didn't learn the necessary information in the first place. Until that issue is addressed, there is no way to tell if retention is even marginally appropriate. If the child is at risk for learning, whether because of specific learning differences or because of cognitive challenges,there is little likelihood that the child will learn the same information unless something changes in the presentation. Just sitting through the same information presented in the same way for a second year in a row is unlikely to benefit any child. Kindergarten teachers need to identify any and all children who are not making appropriate progress by mid-winter so that there is time to evaluate their needs and plan appropriate instructional intervention so that each child will have the instruction he or she needs to succeed in Kindergarten. This should drastically reduce the number of children who are not making good progress. Retention in Kindergarten should almost never be a viable option...it's just not good for kids!

When retaining a student we need to look at the research which finds little support for the practice. Children who are retained are typically given the same instruction, if it did not work the first time what makes us think it will work the second time.

As an Early Childhood professional with 35+ years of teaching, administrative, constulting, and supervisory experiences, I believe that we need to have a transition class available for those children not proficient enough to go on to first grade after a year in kindergarten. This class would offer the skills needed to transition those children during the year, when the skills were deemed at a level for success, rather than waiting for the next calendar year. Additionally, by eliminating the concept of "grades," children would be able to be with others who needed help with the same skills, rather than be classed as kindergarten, first, second, etc. grades. This concept, ungraded classrooms, could also address the needs of the students who were more than proficient and they would be able to proceed at their own levels, rather than a grade level. This would certainly shake the existing education climate, but I think we need to think of other ways to eliminate failure down the line in schools.Studies have shown that children who fail early, usually do not succeed in the rest of their education.

What about Alternative Kindergartens PRIOR to Kindergarten? My son is 5 and just turned 5 the day after Labor Day. Our school district's cut off date is Sept 30. So he could have went to K, but been VERY young. The Lutheran school in our town offers an Alternative Kindergarten. They do half of the Kindergarten curriculum. They kids still get to do field trips and things with the other K classes, but he's not asked to do as much of the other stuff. The program is in it's second year and went from a class that met for half days on Mon thru Fri and had 9 students enrolled to running almost like a Kindergarten class. He goes to school Mon thru Fri in the afternoon, and they have 10 students enrolled in the moring class and 10 students enrolled in the afternoon. They doubled their enrollment!! Now the strange thing is that all 20 pupils in the Alternative Kindergarten are boys! How does that figure into the equation? Just food for thought! :)

If we don't know by now then we haven't done a good job of understanding that ALL children do not learn at the same pace or with the cookie cutter methods of teaching regardless of age.
The problems with discrepancies in the educational system has little to do with education and a lot to do with politics and money.
In the ideal world schools would have the best of everything (teachers,administrators,facilities, materials, equipment and manageable class sizes); this all requires money. Americans have failed to see the value of putting our money where our mouths are!
There is always a debate about decreasing achievement gaps, but the realistic solutions never seem to arise from all the rhetoric.
We need to put our children's education first. We need to look at each child's individual and unique talents and build upon them. No Child Left Behind has brought about accountability but at whose expense?
Let's put the children's real needs first and stop wasting money and time debating over the problem and look for measures to address educating our children at the level(s) where they need instruction versus the level an adult feels they should be capable of attaining by a certain grade.

As everybody knows children learn in different ways.I believe that retention in kindergarten and first grade can be appropriate for some childrens' that are not mature enough to deal with academics. Some students have enough difficulty or problems socialization or doing classroom activities.The problem increased when teacher has 35 students in class. No Child Left Behind has brought about accountability but at whose expense? Children are always first but the problems with discrepancies in the Board of Education has little to do with education and a lot to do with politics and money.In my teaching world the ideal school would have the best of everything (teachers,directors,facilities, materials, equipment and class sizes reduction); all requires money, as teacher we are doing our part. I teach because this is my mission. Lets remember parents are the primary educators and they need to do their part too.

I don't believe in holding students over. Generally, academic failure needs more focused and individualized attention, not another year of the same thing that didn't work the first time. However, with kindergarten children, there can be other factors that holding a child back may help; sometimes, particularly if the child has not had much preschool experience, or perhaps not a very positive preschool experience, or the child may just be socially immature, in such cases, holding him/her back a year at this point may actually build confidence and be a positive thing. Usually, at this age there isn't much (if any) stigma that the child is aware of. After this point, however, I do not support it.

Do not hold K or first grade students back. That teacher did not know how to reach this kid, the next may and may do a better job after only one year of teacher 'a'. It may kill the kids desire to learn to have to cope with K twice.

Joan of Sequim

My school district offers a Transitional-1st grade class for those children who are not developmentally ready for formal 1st grade. This 'gift of time' allows these 'younger' children to grow and learn in a less stressful environment without having a retention on their records. As a 21-year veteran in the kdg. classroom, I have become an advocate for the T-1 class. Before moving to my present school system, I knew that certain children were being set-up for failure when they were promoted to 1st grade. After seeing the successes of the T-1 students (9 years in my present position), I believe it is a wonderful option.

I did not want my son to be retained in kindergarten. My wife, a former elementary school teacher, and the school felt differently. My wife felt our son was developmentally delayed and he would benefit from another year. She had seen signs since pre-school. Early vision problems and his premature birth may have been contributing factors. He experienced frustration in kindergarten last year. He did not complete his work in class. Things are different this year. He enjoys school more. He experiences success. We still use this time to teach him first grade skills. As a person who loved school and one who has spent his life in education, I cringed at the thought that my child would dislike first grade. Next year, I don't believe that will be the case.

Lori Shepard's research should have closed this topic nearly 20 years ago. Her findings, and the research of others, have very conclusively shown that retention is a failed intervention. Retention seems to be more of a method to release a teacher's guilt than a method to help a student. We need to stop this negative, possibly abusive, response and find other interventions with more positive results. Testimonials do not justify continuation of retention practices. It's time to find something better.

Whenever one evaluates a child's performance we are comparing their achievement in areas of academic, social, and emotional growth againist those of their peer group. Many factors evolve when making this comparison. Some may include but are not limited to health in the birth to three year realm. We look at age when compared to the rest of the class and ask if the child is the youngest or oldest in their class.We also need to consider background experiences and medical issues. More often it is the younger birthdays that appear immature when compared to the whole class and retaining them will benefit them socially as well as academically. Retention guidelines should allow many factors to play a role in the decision making process.Ultimatley, we need to look at the individual and establish if this is right for them and will help them grow into a well adjusted citizen with high self-esteem who will be successful in whatever he/she chooses to do.

As a five-year veteran of teaching kindergarten, I can tell you I have never witnessed a child who has suffered from being retained, either in my class or in the classes of the four fellow teachers on my team. In light of the increasingly difficult curriculum expectations placed on kindergartners, many are simply too young, either in terms of their brain development, or their emotional/social development, to come close to meeting the academic demands we place on them. Still, retention isn't the answer for every struggling student. Any experienced educator will tell you that deciding whether a student should be retained involves weighing several complex issues. For example, I recommended against retaining one of my struggling students last year because she was very tall for her age, and sadly, very sexually savvy for her age. I felt her self-esteem would have been badly harmed by being kept back with children who were not only much physically smaller than she, but also much less sophisticated. At the same time, I feared she would have an adverse effect on them. The specialists and administrators in my school agreed. In sum, arguing for or against retaining kindergartners in a blanket fashion is nonsense! Each student's needs has to be weighed separately, based on a variety of factors. No research (which we all know can be skewed and interpreted to match the opinions of the researchers) will ever convince me otherwise.

Any child, any age, retained to simply repeat the same experience that did not move him/her forward in the first place, is not going to benefit from retention. At the same time, social promotion is even worse because we are setting the student up for failure by pushing him/her into a learning situation for which the child has no or little foundation.
We have a responsibility, especially in the introductory years of schooling to bring kids forward from where they are. That means finding out where they are and not assuming that age = skills and knowledge.

A century of research reveals the deleterious effects of grade retention, and the most recent meta-analysis of studies from the past decade indicates that indicates that compared to similar students that are promoted, retained students are worse off (including students retained in K-6) (Jimerson, 2001 in School Psychology Review). Lower achievement, more behavior problems, and higher school dropout rates are a few of the negative outcomes associated with grade retention.

Over thirty years ago educational researchers declared grade retention to be "an unjustifiable, discriminatory, and noxious" intervention. The results of research failing to support grade retention as an academic intervention, and the evidence indicating positive effects of other educational interventions, in addition to the disproportionate use of grade retention among children of ethnic minority and low income backgrounds, now raises the concern that the continued use of grade retention is “educational malpractice.” "Educational malpractice" emphasizes a standard of care in educating children and the responsibility of educational professionals to provide intervention strategies that research supports as generally effective in promoting student's academic success. Research fails to support grade retention.

Considering the research during the past 100 years, the evidence clearly indicates that we must move beyond grade retention and social promotion. Instead, educational professionals must focus on interventions that build upon the strengths of students and target their needs. Specific interventions to promote the academic success of students are essential to meet achievement standards. In this era emphasizing evidence-based interventions,” research fails to support the effectiveness of grade retention.

For those interested in research on this topic, including the meta-analysis and additional research regarding grade retention and social promotion, additional research articles are available on-line at http://www.education.ucsb.edu/jimerson/retention

I believe we need to have statewide plans to establish transition classes for Kindergarten students that are not ready to proceed to 1st grade. We need to remediate at the lowest level possible so that we don't have the problem in the upper grades. The students are coming in at such a deficit with not only basic skills, but also the lack of social skills training (sharing, taking turns, hitting others)that we are losing time with academics.
Another solution maybe to have entrance critera and if the students are not ready (except for the children that need special education services)they can't begin until the following school year or do pre-kindergarten classes for those students that are deficient. If it were not for high stakes testing passing the students who are not ready would be crucial, but not critical. To pass students on to first grade without a solid foundation is critical because the students are always in the catch-up mode and the pressure is on the teachers to get students on grade level.

In my 43 years as an educator I've seen one child who was retained where I believed it was in "his best interest" and that was due to social and physical immaturity not grades. I've seen several young people make 2 or more years gain in one school year.

In my opinion retention is a punishment adults inflict on children - a punishment that lasts the rest of their life.

In my 43 years as an educator I've seen one child who was retained where I believed it was in "his best interest" and that was due to social and physical immaturity not grades. I've seen several young people make 2 or more years gain in one school year.

In my opinion retention is a punishment adults inflict on children - a punishment that lasts the rest of their life.

I think that the problem may lie with the fact that kindergarten is no longer the beginning of education. We now expect children to come to school already knowing what used to be taught in kindergarten - like colors, shapes, letters and numbers. Because of the many pre-school programs, 5 year olds are expected to sit in one place for 6 or 7 hours a day and do worksheets with little time for music, art or physical activity. Why do we do this? Many younger (often male) children are just not ready to spend the entire day sitting still and listening. That doesn't mean that they are not capable of learning their ABC's or numbers, it just means that our school systems overwhelm them with facts instead of giving them hands-on activities. And now they must take standardized tests at the end of the year, which puts pressure on both the students and the teachers. We should re-think the whole concept of kindergarten and realize that kids come to school at vastly different levels of knowledge and ability. The first year of formal schooling should not not set the stage for years of hating education.

Bottom line: research has shown time and time again that retention doesn't work. Even if we have had a personal experience that "proves" otherwise, we need to consult our to our professional educational data. We need alternatives to retention. Especially in kindergarten, where retaining means going back to day one of a child's entire educational career, often sending him/her back to a half day school program (instead of the possibities of a full day in first grade), retention can not be the answer.

How about instead of social promotion or retention, we find an alternative that allows students to retain their dignity, while meeting their developmental needs in an appropriate academic setting?

I’m delighted to see the new study on kindergarten retention reported in the recent Education Week. But I’m also irritated—irritated because there are already piles and piles of evidence that say the same thing. Studies of equal or better design have been coming to the same conclusions for upwards of a hundred years—beginning not long after poor old “didn’t know any better” Horace Mann and his colleagues decided to cope with the burgeoning populations in the common schools by assigning children to groups by their age and further compounding the crime by assigning a portion of the curriculum to that particular age cohort. Retention was born then because there were always some students that were outside what was typical (both ways) for their age. And ever since then schools have bent themselves into administrative and curricular pretzels to figure out ways to undo what can’t be fixed.

By the end of the 1980s increasing numbers of educators and the public were accepting the reality that children are not all alike. But the 90s brought increasing emphasis on standards-based education and increasing participation of the business and political communities in the operation of schools. Standards-based education for all of the positive effects that it can have is rooted in the notion that certain parts of the curriculum will be taught to age- or ability-segmented groups of children at particular times. It is the perfect recipe to perpetuate retention and thereby to assure that the most vulnerable children will continue to get the least benefit from public education. When he was president Bill Clinton took on the cause of eradicating social promotion (the euphemism for promoting retention) and now the mayor of New York City and the governors of several states are following suit. They will all be long out of office before the personal and societal consequences of ignoring what we already know come to light.

We are in a time when the education community is being called upon to base its practice on scientifically-based research (as if it never did). Why does that devotion to scientific truth not extend to this repeatedly discredited practice? Why are policy makers content to continue to pay the bill to retain increasing numbers of children; repeating a grade in school makes the education of such students more expensive by the equivalent of the school’s annual per pupil cost times the number of students retained. That is very simple math. If we are willing to spend that much on a practice that has been demonstrated to have negative consequences, why are we not willing to spend it on practices that have been demonstrated to improve children’s achievement?

The practices that improve children’s achievement do not include extra-year programs as promoted by many of the previous respondents to this article. The evidence on their effectiveness looks quite a bit like that of retention; it doesn’t work. What is the most alarming about so many of the earlier respondents is their willingness to make judgments on the n of 1 and to ignore the preponderance of credible findings. No wonder we don’t make progress.

Why is it necessary to keep using precious resources to prove over and over again that something doesn’t work?

The timeless debate continues concerning retention in kindergarten. It was a seminar topic in grad school in the 70's and continues to be cussed and discussed. The overall findings of research, surveys, and student assessments have held true over time. Kindergarten retention does not significantly alter the child's learning and often results negatively in the affective realm. There are other options to investigate after appropriate evaluation such as part time summer instruction, alternative teaching techniques, programs for special needs, and quite simply, time for growth. A child knows when she has been retained no matter how one couches the fact. The potential for lowering self-esteem is not worth the gamble on retention. One must work proactively with the child to advance his learning. I spent 16 years in kindergarten and loved every minute! :)

"Best interest of the child" is a phrase that we often misuse and/or overuse when making decisions regarding a child's academic future. Do we really do what's in the child's best interest or do we attempt to adhere to rules, regulations, and social expectations set forth by the federal/state government, and society? No matter if we are discussing retention in the early grades, or special education placement we often loose sight of the "child" and how we can best meet his or her needs. Meeting the needs of the child should be addressed on a case-by-case basis. There are too many factors involved to try and fit a child into a mold (meeting critieria).

It all starts at home, just as schools, teachers and students are expected and mandated to perform at certain levels, parents should be too. All too often the parent accepts little to no responsibility for their child's education and development (we all know children whose parents who are involved, even when the child is having difficulty tend to perform better, are more successful, and/or make more progress). How does this happen, through changes in the law, and through a "true" collaborative effort that involves, parents, doctors, schools, counseling agencies, businesses at all levels, and government. If we want brighter, more creative, independent, problem-solving individuals in the workforce we have got to do something to create an environment that produces such individuals not just some of the time, but the majority of the time. A comprehensive plan (not a plan that is hit or miss, or one that sounds good, but really does nothing) needs to be developed to address the whole child from Pre-K on. It's obvious that we don't have it (a comprehensive plan) yet, because if we did we wouldn't continue to address the same issues over and over.

Maybe it is time to rethink yearly school entry. Years ago children entered school either in September or January, depending on their chronological age. That was scrapped and as far as I know no one is seriously considering this alternative. Surely, the issue of retention might be much less formidable when students who simply need a few more months to develop requisite skills are provided the opportunity, either by entering school closer to their birthdate or repeating a half year instead of a whole one. We used to call it A and B (i.e., 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B, etc.). Anyone remember that?

My dauther attended a private kindergarten and she was not doing very well. In January, the teachers suddenly realized that she wasn't reading, just copying the letters. They did not recommend keeping her back, but to enroll her in 1st grade in a public school. She was six months behind and ended up repeating the 1st grade. She did not feel badly and with 1 hour a week extra help from 1st grade to 3rd grade, she was in the advanced program by 4th grade and graduated from college Magna Cum Laude. So I think children could do great in school by staying back in kindergarten. It is so much better to be at the top of the class than always struggling on the bottom of the class. In 1st grade she began singing with the school chorus. By 2nd grade she auditioned to become part of the full chorus. She was a great singer and she credits having to stand in front of an audience as the best thing that helped her in school. Why would you be upset if your child at age 5 stayed back? My daughter graduated when she was 19.

Retaining a child is always a difficult situation. I come from a city with requires retention of students not achieving at grade level in the third grade. By that point the child has experienced three to four years of stuggling to keep up resulting in a sense poor self-esteem and feelings of failure. From experience I have noted that when I retain a student in kindergarten or first grade they gain the time that they need to meet the grade level benchmarks and enter second grade stronger in reading and math. These students retain a positive self esteem because they are now feeling succesful. However, each retention must be reviewed to ensure that the cause of the delay is requires additional time not additional service due to language or special needs issues. In those cases then the child needs to be promoted with services provided to support the individual needs of the child.

Is the question really whether retention is appropriate? If the research is reviewed regarding dropout rates of retained students then no it isn't. Is the question teacher skills that would allow them to help all students succeed? Certainly that is an issue nationally. However, is it possible the question to be raised is really 'how can we change the system so that stigma attached to retention is a non-issue?' Perhaps a non-graded, standards based system would be the answer. We currently have multi-age classrooms in schools where students spend multiple years - have we examined the effects of this organizational structure in terms of consistently producing high quality student performance? All in all why wouldn't we examine the 'machine' of education and consider a different model?

How about this? I am a masters level student in education and a parent of a child who will start kindergarten next Fall. I am aware of the present educational issues and am going through a masters program where we discuss curriculum. How can we live in a society where I don't even know what the Kindergarten curriculum is and I'm supposed to have my child ready? I am scared to send my child to public school if all they will be doing is learning for tests. You can bet I'll be watching for this! I checked on line for my state curriculum and did not find it. Parents are not being helped here in preparing their children. I am left to only assume what the current curriculum is. Is it a secret? Why are children falling thjrough the cracks and if I call the local kindergarten teacher, will she respond to my inquiry about how I can prepare my child? Why isn't this common knowledge? And if she or he doesn't, isn't that failing the child also?

I can not find any evidence that the child benefits from retention. I feel that early intervention programs, developmental programs in Early Childhood Programs is the answer. It is not in seveth grade or later that we notice that a child is going to need help. We notice it the first year of school, and if there is communication with parents early on, we get a good idea what a child's academic needs are. Retention in later elementary schools year, and later in middle school years, obviously this is not working when students are not achieving. We need to look at this idea of retention more closely and consider alternatives when we first notice the problem.

As a former classroom teacher, a mother, a grandmother, and now director of a 700-member volunteer mentoring program I felt a real need to make a comment on retention.

As a teacher I was judicious in making a decision to retain a student, always discussing the need with the parent. Never did I have a parent choose to promote their child, instead they always felt the need to give him or her that extra opportunity to come up to grade level. Many times this was due more to immaturity than to native ability...especially with boys. (I am an advocate of requiring boys to be 6 years old before entering Kindergarten...and I know there will be lots of feedback on that!)

As a parent, having two September-birthday children who were usually the youngest in their classes, I later realized how much I had to supplement their classroom experience to keep them up with their peers. This gradually disappeared as they grew up, but I think how much easier it would have been for them if they had had an extra year to grow and mature, both physically and mentally.

As a grandmother, one of my grandsons is in that same September-birthday situation. Each year his parents asked his teachers to retain him since they were needing to spend hours each night trying to help with his assignments...and he getting more and more frustrated. They pleaded for three years and finally prevailed at the end of third grade in getting him retained. That one year has been a God's-send for him (and them!) in that he had a chance to mature. His level of happiness in school is so evident, just as his un-happiness before was just as evident.

Perhaps teachers see retention as failure on their part to prepare all of their students for promotion. I see it more of a failure if they do not think of the whole development of their students and give them a little extra time. When they get to middle and high school, being 15 as a freshman instead of 14 will be of so little consequence that it will hardly matter.

In my position with the mentoring program, so many of the mentors complain that their mentees should have been, or should be retained, but aren't. They talk of the frustration of their mentees, and the teachers and how it affects their mentee's self-confidence when they are unable to read or do math anywhere close to grade level. We abdicate our roles as grown-ups, parents, teachers, etc., when we do not do what is best for our children rather than what is politically correct!

My Sarah who is 6, and just turned 6 in August was retained in Kindergarten by me. I felt she was too young to start first grade and some of her work at school reflected the fact she was a bit immature. Socially she is on top, she had all the signs to begin school and sent her to K as a new 5 year old. Word to the wise, don't send the babies to school till they are 6. She has risen above and is now the top student in her class, not to mention she is having a superior year.

my son just started kindergarden and he just turn 5, and now I am facing a situation with the teacher that being he is the youngest in the class, and he needs more attention, they are putting pressure on him to already know all the sounds of the letters and write like someone that has gone to school prior to entering kindergarden, for me is just not fair, maybe they should start letting parents know that it has to be a requirement that when they start kinder, they already should know how to write, instead of enjoing my son first year I am going to meetings with the teacher showing me how my son needs to write and do his assigments, should not this be part of his learning thru the hold year, at this poing maybe I am considering home schooling...

We should be careful about using words like "retention" and "holding back". If we as educators would carefully consider that developmentally some children are not ready for the rigors of what has been created in kindergarten. In earlier years this was a time of socialization, forming friendships and lifeskills. Today public schools have to have kids "ready" for cognitive tests, which I am sad to say has filtered into the private school setting.
Many children need the gift of time. Time is something we should give our young friends because sadly the passage of youth passes much too quickly.
Educators can use research data to prove anything. Go into the real world (classrooms), question teachers and parents. Find out what is working and what is not.

In my district we had a Class called which was a step up from K but not quite 1st grade and it was all day. Activities were different, there was a t/a and the class had 15 students. We had arranged with the elmentary schools that if we felt a student was ready in Dec or Jan they would take the student. In the beginning the Bridge premise worked. We had a few students who went to 1st grade in Dec and january and were able to stay on par with the other students in his class. In reading the letter before mine, we also had prepared a booklet to the parents and had a gift box on the cover of the booklet and said that we were giving the cnhildren the gift of time. The program was around from about 1986-1990. Because we relied on parental consent, testing devised by somw standardized tests and several home grown tests and for a few other reasons the Bridge program proved not to be a viable solution for our students who were not quite ready. If, NCLB had some area where children went to a summer program before K and were worked with in small groups to get intro to K with socialization a heavy component and language skills and math another part of the triumvirate I think we might have a chance. I see children in some of the schools I visit, who have the potential but get lost in the sauce or have no backup at home. Let's give education some big $$$$. If we work with Prek, K-3rd grade in settings of 15-18 in a class we stand a chance to put a large dent in retention.

This is a late response to a topic dating back nearly a month ago.

I just wanted to say that there are many pre-school options that parents can access befor their children attend kindergarten.

Kindergarten should be an all-day affair, for at least three days out of the five day week. Pre-K and pre-school (toilet-trained children) should have a shortened day, and week. However, some parents see this time as a way to dispose of their children, and to use school facilities as glorified day care centers. How terrible!

All children are different; some adjust better than others do. The parent is responsible for raising the child properly, and listening to advice as to whether the child is actually ready for school, and if so, to what extent.

No child should enter kindergarten without a full year in a pre-k setting. I work in a system where the pre-k classes are set out in age levels (from kids who just turned four, to those who just turned five) I say we do that with the kindergarten classes as well.

This is a very complex topic, and it would take more time, and room than we have here.

I would like to say that I really wish people would look at the knowledgeable professionals who have the statistics and the facts and how retaining a child effects their self-esteem in the long run. They know what they are talking about.
I am 38 years old and just recently was able to talk to my father about how much being held back in the 2nd grade humiliated me. I was always afraid that somehow people would notice, whatever the school and my parents noticed about me,that wasn't smart or good enough. It has definately caused severe emotional trama that effects me everyday.
I was always afraid that men wouldn't like me, because they always said that you had to be cute and smart. I knew that they would discover this and I would never find anyone. I didn't particulary want to date a "dumb" man however. Where did this lead me? Luckily I met a wonderful man and we have been married 15 years. He tells me that I have a huge chip on my shoulder or a crater rather, and that it has definately effected our marriage. I am very defensive and don't like to be wrong. I rebel against not feeling worthy or good enough.
I made myself go to college not because I wanted an education, but to proof to myself and to others that I could do it. I hardly spoke in college, because once again, I thought someone would discover that I wasn't quite right. My daughter is currently struggling and I need to talk to the school about not retaining her, but as I sit here and type tears fill my eyes and I don't know if I will be able to talk to them and hold it together. Retaining didn't make my smarter!!! It humiliated me! I was luckier than most kids because I was cute and really was spoiled rather than made fun of, but I had my share of teasing. After the teasing, they usually wanted to have me over to hang out with however. God was good and made me likeable,but definately not the sharpest crayon in the box.
I am going to send my daughter to Sylvan or have her tested to see if she has some kind of absorbtive dyslexia as I have heard some friends talk about.
The really difficult thing that educators have to remember is that a child being retained usually has sibings and they sometimes are very smart. Having your brothers going to Yale and you can't even pass the second grade really sucks! Intervention is needed not retention.
My oldest daughter had her hand shook by the teachers and told that they expect nothing less than 98% from her and hope to see her at Harvard or Yale one day, while my other daughter is having difficulty passing. This is not a feel good thing and I went home that night and cried my eyes out.
She will pass and succeed and it will not be by retention. No way, no how, NEVER!!!!!!!! Please listed to the people that have the facts on the affects of retention. It is not succesful at all!

I challenge anyone to find good research that supports retention. It does not exist unless you go back to the forties when hitting kids with rulers was a good idea too. Retention is ineffective, terribly expensive, and detrimental to a child’s self esteem.

I believe that retaining kindergarteners is not always the answer , these days a 5 year old is exspected to know alot more than when I was in school, and things were different, My daughter was said to be to immature , how mature is a 5 year old suppose to be at that age....I feel that retaining a child because they have not mastered all the things that the schools put on them is not sending the right message...my daughter has to learn basic math, to count to 100, the vowels, has sight words she must recognize each week, AB pattern, shapes, colors, letter and word recognition , and more ...these things I didnt learn some of them until first grade, some children will be able to do all this and do well, but other children learn ata different pace. I have also noticed that alot of schools have taken away recess or the teachers just do not do it anymore. So I am toatally against retaining a child in kindergarten You are telling a 5yr old they just didn't cutthe mustard....they failed...so how does failing them equate to " I love you so much I'm holding you back" If you recognize a problem you find a way to solve it , make it work for the child, There's always a way to reach them.

I have also decided to send my daughter to sylvan to have her get the actual extra help she may need...i hear it's a pretty good program, and I think that's all she needs with my help , and theirs I'm sure she will do a lot better . Teachers will say Well i have 26 students I do not have time to give the extra help, and that is understandable, but rather than retain there has to be other ways , these days they have another person hired to help them and still there isn't time. At the beginning of the year I voiced my concerns and I was made to believe my daiughter was progressing , and now she hasnt progressed enough and they are already deciding her fate as far as kindergarten..My daughter is shy and when asked questions she tends to freeze up , she's very visual ....Again I am not for retaining children in kindergarten, as you can see.
Mother in Coumbus GA

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Recent Comments

  • Michelle Milner: I have also decided to send my daughter to sylvan read more
  • Michelle Milner: I believe that retaining kindergarteners is not always the answer read more
  • Kate Beardsall: I challenge anyone to find good research that supports retention. read more
  • Cory Allen/ substitute teacher: I would like to say that I really wish people read more
  • George W. Murphy, Jr., Ed.M.: This is a late response to a topic dating back read more




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