DEAR MR. DAD: My son’s first-grade teacher is recommending that he repeat the year rather than move on to second grade. She says he hasn’t mastered the academics, and that it’s better to hold him back now than later. What should I do?

We’re currently in the midst of a backlash against what’s commonly referred to as social promotion – moving kids on from grade to grade when the calendar says so instead of when they’ve demonstrated academic and social readiness. Today, educators want to get tough and hold kids back when they come up short.

Sounds reasonable, but solid research indicates that holding kids back is usually a mistake. A University of Georgia study looked at more than 10,000 retained students and concluded that children who repeat a grade tend to fall even further behind during their second time through the same grade. And contrary to popular belief, retained students are actually up to 30 percent more likely to drop out of school later on than low achievers who were socially promoted anyway.

Retention can also be very traumatic for kids. No matter how nicely you put it, they’ll feel an overwhelming stigma, one they’ll never forget. If it worked, it might be worth pursuing anyway, but the research indicates otherwise. The National Association of School Psychologists – who certainly ought to know what they’re talking about – issued a statement a few years ago that retention was no more successful in addressing developmental issues than academic ones.

Ask your son’s teacher for specific reasons for holding him back, and why she believes these skills will improve if he repeats the grade. You may also wish to request an evaluation of your child.

Many students who have difficulty in the classroom actually have a vision or hearing impairment, a learning disability, or an emotional problem. All of these are better addressed through special services than retention. Repeating the year can even mask the problem and delay the solution.

Find out what your district’s policy is regarding the final decision for retention. Even if it’s technically in the hands of the teacher or principal, most districts won’t retain a student over the objections of the parents – especially one who makes it clear that he knows what he’s talking about.

So pick up CDs, educational games, and plenty of library books and use the summer months to help your son learn the skills he’ll need for second grade.

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