Holding back in the third grade

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  February 18, 2011 06:00 AM

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I am trying to hold back my child. He is in 3rd grade and is way behind. I talked with his teacher, and she thinks that it would be a great idea. However, she told me that I can't tell the principal that. I live in Utah and they are strong believers that No Child Should Get Left Behind. I have been thinking about holding him back since first grade and regret every year that I let him move on. He is finally in a program after school that is helping him. I am going to have my kids go to a different school next year.

Is there any steps that I need to know in holding back my child?

From: L, Sandy, Utah

Hi L,

I'm a big believer in doing whatever you can to meet a child's needs. In my opinion, there is no right or wrong/yes or no on retention, and I would never make a blanket statement about it, so I like your approach. But you must know this is controversial and there's research on both sides of the argument. (The quick summary is that holding back for academic reasons tends to have more successful outcomes than holding back because of social immaturity.)

But you're not asking whether, you're asking how, so I'm glad you are able to move him to another school. That will make it easier for him once he's there -- less chance of him being stigmatized, and that's often the reason there are negative outcomes. Getting him there? Probably not be so easy.

Even though this is your decision to make -- and be clear about that, including with him; this is not a child's decision -- don't just spring this on him as a fait accompli. Bring him into the process. Have conversations about his struggles; what ideas does he have. What does he wish for? For all you know, he may wish it for himself. What you want to avoid is him feeling like a failure and the more you can get him to sign on, the easier it will be for all of you.

Look carefully at the new school. It's possible that your son hasn't done well because of his learning style, not the grade he's in. What will make a new school better able to meet his needs? Since the teacher agrees that holding back is a good idea, ask her specifically what you should look for in a new school. What does she hope for him?

The one thing most parents don't think about when they hold back is what will happen in years to come. Your son likely will be the oldest, the biggest, the first to get facial hair and his driver's license. He may have responsibilities and expectations foisted on him, from teachers and peers alike, just because he is taller and older.

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.

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2 comments so far...
  1. One of my brothers and one of my sisters were both held back in early grades (first grade) and it was such a good move for them. They both ended up doing quite well in school and in life. My other brother would have benefited tremendously from being held back as well and NOT doing so is one of the decisions my parents most regret - he was always behind, always hated school and that negativity spilled over into other areas in his life. If you and his teacher are on the same page, and you're going to switch schools anyway, then it sounds like a no-brainer. I wouldn't worry about him being the oldest or first to develop - there are so many kids now who start school a year late or do two years of Kindergarten or first grade that he certainly won't be the only one in his grade who is his age.

    If I were you, I would talk to his new school now and find out what their placement policy is to ensure that if you need to "prove" that he is behind, you have the test scores and evaluation materials to make your case. They should be able to tell you what information they need to make that decision. I would assume that your child already has had full evaluations and is on an IEP, but if that's not the case, there is plenty of time left in this school year to get the necessary testing done.

    Posted by Jen February 18, 11 10:19 AM
  1. As a teacher and a parent, I agree that retaining a student must be considered on a case by case basis. I did have one young man in my 4th grade class a number of years ago who struggled a great deal even with special education services. When we met with mom @ the end of the school year, we learned that she would be moving over the summer and thought he should attend 4th grade again in his new town. Our biggest concern was that if he moved up to 5th grade, he would be attending middle school, a placement he truly was not ready for. This solution gave him another year in the elementary setting to build on his basic skills before beginning more independent learning and to be one of the "big kids" which helped a great deal with his confidence and social skills.
    My kudos to this mother who realizes that "childhood is a journey not a race".

    Posted by Jennifer Cronin February 18, 11 04:09 PM
 
2 comments so far...
  1. One of my brothers and one of my sisters were both held back in early grades (first grade) and it was such a good move for them. They both ended up doing quite well in school and in life. My other brother would have benefited tremendously from being held back as well and NOT doing so is one of the decisions my parents most regret - he was always behind, always hated school and that negativity spilled over into other areas in his life. If you and his teacher are on the same page, and you're going to switch schools anyway, then it sounds like a no-brainer. I wouldn't worry about him being the oldest or first to develop - there are so many kids now who start school a year late or do two years of Kindergarten or first grade that he certainly won't be the only one in his grade who is his age.

    If I were you, I would talk to his new school now and find out what their placement policy is to ensure that if you need to "prove" that he is behind, you have the test scores and evaluation materials to make your case. They should be able to tell you what information they need to make that decision. I would assume that your child already has had full evaluations and is on an IEP, but if that's not the case, there is plenty of time left in this school year to get the necessary testing done.

    Posted by Jen February 18, 11 10:19 AM
  1. As a teacher and a parent, I agree that retaining a student must be considered on a case by case basis. I did have one young man in my 4th grade class a number of years ago who struggled a great deal even with special education services. When we met with mom @ the end of the school year, we learned that she would be moving over the summer and thought he should attend 4th grade again in his new town. Our biggest concern was that if he moved up to 5th grade, he would be attending middle school, a placement he truly was not ready for. This solution gave him another year in the elementary setting to build on his basic skills before beginning more independent learning and to be one of the "big kids" which helped a great deal with his confidence and social skills.
    My kudos to this mother who realizes that "childhood is a journey not a race".

    Posted by Jennifer Cronin February 18, 11 04:09 PM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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