Retention: Why Kids Are Held Back

By Amanda Morin
Email's logo Email's logo

Email

Copy link

Print

Chat's logo Chat's logo

Share

At a Glance

  • Research shows that retention isn’t the best plan for most kids.

  • Academics are only one thing to think about when considering retention.

  • You can talk to your child’s school about all the options before making a decision.

Holding kids back a grade—also known as “retention”—isn’t common. But if the school is considering having your child repeat a year (or if you are), there are some important basics to know about it.

Why Schools May Recommend Repeating a Grade

If your child hasn’t built the academic skills she’ll need for the next grade, her school may advise holding her back. The idea is that an extra year will help her catch up.

But sometimes your child’s academic struggles are just one factor that the school is considering. Additional reasons that the school may cite can include:

  • Your child is very young for her grade or socially immature.

  • Your child has missed a lot of school due to serious illness.

  • Your child doesn’t reach the performance level expected for moving to the next grade.

Some states also have third-grade retention laws that say kids have to stay back if they can’t read at a certain level this year. However, some of these states may make exceptions. You can ask your child’s school how your state’s law handles third-grade retention when a child has a known learning difference.

Current Thinking on Retention

Recent research shows that, for the most part, holding kids back a grade isn’t the best practice. The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) reports that some kids do better in school the first year or two after being held back. But it also says that this effect doesn’t last.

NASP also points out that kids with learning and thinking differences may not do better at all unless there are new, specific interventions in place. If a child is held back because she’s struggling to learn, more of the same kind of teaching doesn’t help. Moving up a grade with new learning supports in place may be a better solution.

What You Can Do

As a parent, you play an important role in your child’s education. You have the right to be involved in the decision-making process.

If your child’s school suggests that she repeat a year, it’s a good idea to sit down with her teacher to find out why. You can also ask what changes would be made in the ways your child is taught if she’s held back a year. It’s important that there’s a plan in place that you believe will help your child succeed.

When you meet with your child’s teacher, you can also discuss what alternatives there might be to retention. Some questions you might bring up:

  • Are there new accommodations that could increase her success in the classroom next year?

  • Do her IEP goals and services need to be revised to help her be more successful?

  • Are summer learning programs an available option?

  • Would one-on-one tutoring be helpful in making sure your child can move up to the next grade?

It may help to go to this meeting prepared with a working knowledge of the pros and cons of retention. And even if you disagree with your child’s teacher, it’s important to build a good relationship with her.

Wondering whether retention is a good idea for your child, even though her school hasn’t brought it up? Explore it more with this Decision Guide. You can always ask your child’s teacher to discuss the possibility with you.

Key Takeaways

  • Some states have laws that say a child can’t move up unless she can read at a certain level. But there can be exceptions.

  • If your child is going to be held back, there should also be a plan to teach her in new ways that may work better.

  • There may be other options to consider before retention.

About the Author

About the Author

Amanda Morin 

worked as a classroom teacher and as an early intervention specialist for 10 years. She is the author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education. Two of her children have learning differences.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Bob Cunningham, EdM 

serves as executive director of learning development at Understood.

Did you find this helpful?

Up Next

Stay Informed

Sign up for weekly emails containing helpful resources for you and your family.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Please wait...

By signing up, you acknowledge that you reside in the United States and are at least 13 years old, and agree that you've read the Terms and Conditions. Understood.org does not market to or offer services to individuals in the European Union.