Has Your Child Been Recommended to Repeat a Grade? The Earlier, the Better, UB Professor Says

By Mary Cochrane

Release Date: May 12, 2005 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- With the current school year drawing to a close, countless families soon will be confronted with what many of them will consider devastating news: Their child's teacher will recommend that he repeat the same grade next year.

The best way to react, says a University at Buffalo expert on retention and transition for elementary school students, is for these parents to focus on helping their child understand the recommendation is for their good.

While such recommendations are not made until "right at the end of the academic school year," they usually come as no surprise to the parents and children who receive them, according to LeAdelle Phelps, professor and associate dean for academic affairs in the UB Graduate School of Education.

"The child knows he or she is not making adequate gains at school," Phelps said. "The decision is almost always based on the fact that the child has not made sufficient academic progress to be successful at the next grade."

Schools today seek to retain, or hold back, children who are struggling before they reach second grade, Phelps says, because if it occurs later, there can be "all sorts of social implications."

Typically, it will be recommended that students with average abilities simply repeat a grade. With slower learners, the recommendation may be that they be enrolled in special, intermediate pre-first or pre-second grade classrooms. Such classrooms provide additional structure "and lots of intensive intervention, so the children will be prepared" for the next grade, Phelps said

These classrooms, however, "are very expensive, so many school districts don't use this method any longer," she added.

How can parents prepare a child who will be repeating a grade?

"What I recommend is that parents tell their children to put it in the context of maturation: 'This will give you more time for your brain to grow,' or 'This is because your birthday is later than the other kids,'" Phelps said.

"They should make the reasons for it more external rather than internal. They should not say this is happening because the child has failed or the child is 'bad.'"

Should parents always listen to such a recommendation?

"It is seldom that teachers make such a recommendation without first consulting with the school psychologist, principal and special-education teacher," Phelps notes. "The child has almost always received special services, individualized instruction and assessment prior to the recommendation."

She notes that that retention "is quite successful when the primary reason is a child's emotional, behavioral, social or cognitive immaturity.

"The extra year gives a child time to catch up. However, if the child is learning disabled or mentally handicapped, such retention seldom solves the problem. Pre-grade classes or retention works best when the child is of average intelligence and there is no evidence of a learning disability and they just really need more time."

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, the largest and most comprehensive campus in the State University of New York.