Schools today operate with high academic standards. As early as kindergarten, teachers, administrators and parents want to measure students’ performance in order to monitor the rate of learning and make changes as early as possible. Current research supports that this practice, when practiced with fidelity, can lead to creating the most effective learning environment for the majority of students involved. For students participating in this system who fall below the average academically, or who may exhibit problem behaviors or social immaturity, grade retention – also known as ‘failing, holding back, not promoting, or having the student repeat the same grade in the next school year’ – continues to be a practice in our public schools. The logic goes something along the lines of: Sally didn’t do well in the 3rd grade this year, so let’s send through another time, and maybe this time she’ll get it right.
For some, this is very distasteful on the basis of a child’s social development. Their viewpoint focuses solely on the child’s social-emotional development. Set aside academic mastery, how can we allow Sally, who will be turning 11 in December for example, to remain another year in the 3rd grade? She needs to move on regardless of academic mastery of the material int he 3rd grade.
So what does the research say? Clearly you’ll guess where this is headed!
Neither grade retention or social promotion (the practice of promoting a child solely to allow the child to remain with same age peers regardless of their mastery of the grade-level academic content) is likely to enhance the child’s learning. Some of the effects of grade retention gathered from current research include:
1. While initial academic improvement may occur during the year the student is retained, that achievement gain actually declines within 2-3 years of the retention.
2. For adolescents, students who were retained are more likely to drop out of school.
3. Students who were retained are 5-11 more times likely to drop out of school.
4. A study of sixth graders’ perceptions indicated that they consider retention as one of the most stressful life events.
from *Grade Retention and Promotion: Information for Parents; www.nasponline.org
What can parents and school personal do when children are performing below grade level or struggling with problem behaviors? Given the evidence that grade retention may pose negative and even harmful outcomes for students, ‘promotion plus’ is considered a viable intervention for parents and school teams to consider. “Promotion plus’ is basically combining grade promotion with effective, evidence based interventions. In effective, your student is promoted however is provided with the additional supports he/she needs in order to be successful academically and/or behaviorally. What these supports may look like would be different dependent upon each child’s unique needs.
More specifically, parents are their children’s best advocates, and can provide insight to the school team as interventions as being developed. You know your child in such a way that your input is invaluable! The earlier parents and teachers begin talking about problems or concerns around a child’s learning, the faster the collaboration around starting interventions can begin. Don’t hesitate to begin these discussions! Addressing problems early improves chances for success. Specific ideas for parents are:
* Form a good working relationship with your child’s teacher(s); discuss concerns as they arise
* Ask your child’s teacher(s) what help is being provided & attempt to offer support of these interventions
*Support your child’s homework efforts – set up a time for homework, offer a quiet spot, etc.
As we monitor student’s progress more closely then ever, retention of students may be commonplace, however there is no evidence that is effective. There are other alternatives to helping children who are experiencing difficulties in school. Ask questions and seek out help from your school staff – they are there to help you and your child succeed!
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