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Child Caring

Retention is never an easy decision

[This letter has been condensed. BFM]
Hi Barbara, my son Alex is 6 1/2 and will turn 7 in June 22... He has an IEP [Individual Educational Plan] for speech, sensory integration and developmental delay. He was recently diagnosed as having ADHD. He is now fully potty trained and has been since May 2012. He is extremely tiny for his age (both weight and height are in the 1% for his age) and not only appears much younger than his peers but is also perceived as a 5 year old by most adults and peers...Also, Alex tends to gravitate to children younger than him. Along with being developmentally delayed, Alex is chronologically and extremely academically behind.

Here is my problem. Regardless of these delays, the school is quite adamant about social promotion and will not retain him... I feel that he is at a disadvantage because of his IEP. I have done tons of research and am quite aware of the negative effects of retaining a child. I feel that my son does not fall into this category. There must be some evidence that retention would benefit some children like my son Alex. Please advise.

From: Tracey, Windham, NH

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Dear Tracey,
Usually the letters I get about retention are the flip side of your problem: the school wants to retain and the parents don't. As you are already aware, retention is controversial, but yes, there are pros and cons on each side, although the trend these days, at least as far as I know, is for an end of so-called social promotion.
So yes, I'm a little surprised at a system that is insistent on doing just that.
In the interest of full disclosure, however, I have some biases. (1) I am a proponent of retention when there are valid reasons, ie., NOT to give a child an athletic or academic edge down the road but because the extra year potentially will help reduce a specific, identified gap. (2) As parents, we are our children's best and most important advocate. I don't discredit that in any way. But I give experienced educators a lot of credit if for no other reason than that they have a reservoir of comparison that an individual parent lacks. (3) The worst outcome in almost any situation is when the school-parent relationship turns adversarial. I would do whatever possible to work in partnership. So before you contemplate your next step, which sounds like it will be antagonistic, here are questions to consider:
1. What did or didn't work for Alex this year? If things mostly didn't work, what makes you think that another year in the same grade would be any different?
2. How significant a factor should his small stature be? Is it realistic to assume kids are likely to be more similar to his size if they are younger? And if they are, will that significantly change his experience? Have you talked to teachers in general as well as to his specific teachers about classroom dynamics and the role size plays?
3. Have you asked the school what it proposes to do for Alex if he is promoted? What goals are they setting for him? And perhaps most importantly, what is their reason for promotion, not the general guideline, but specifically for Alex?
4. Have you asked Alex how he feels about staying back?