Monday, August 27, 2012

What do you think about holding kids back a grade?

The current issue of Time Magazine has an interesting article on a growing trend in the US to hold back 3rd graders who are unable to pass a grade level reading test. My new home state of Florida is one of the most strict when it comes to holding back third graders who do not pass the 3rd grade reading proficiency test and in the first year they enforced this policy 21,799 students were held back, up from 4819 the year before the policy went into effect. According to the article 10% of K-8 students nationwide are held back for one or more years. This percentage balloons to 25% when you only look at low income students. Not only is the cost of holding students back enormous at an estimated $12 billion each year, it has far reaching social effects on the children. As the article states, numerous studies have shown that students who are held back have a higher chance of feeling less connected and show less confidence. On the other hand, some studies have shown a link to greater academic aptitude for those who are given an extra year to develop those reading skills.

Reading this article coincided with me attending a ladies event at a local church where nearly every woman there talked about her lack of creativity. While these two occurrences may seem entirely unconnected, I believe that they share a common root. The modern reliance on standardized tests and standards does not allow for individual expressions of creativity nor does it give space for students who  develop at different rates. This is one of the natural outcomes of an educational system produced by an industrial model.

As someone who continually advocates the importance of reading, I am sympathetic to the need to insure that our students can read proficiently. I am also aware of the challenges teachers face in trying to achieve educational outcomes with a diverse group of students. But I do worry about the long reaching effects on students who are held back and wondered if any of you had experience in this area. Were you ever held back? How did this experience affect the way you looked at school? Have you had a child held back? Did this influence you to seek alternative educational options such a home schooling or private tutoring? Or did you decided to throw out the entire grading system and look toward a more unschooling approach?

Reading this article reminded me of an earlier post on home schooling as an equalizer. Not only have studies proven that home schooled students outperform their public school counterparts on nearly all measures of achievement, it shows the advantages of an educational system that puts the student first. I am also encouraged by studies that show parental involvement is the key to student success, no matter what educational system the student is enrolled in. As highly involved parents and teachers, I am curious how you may have handled the challenge of an "underperforming" student and I'm sure other readers would appreciate hearing your stories as well.

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  1. I would really like to hear other responses to this question. My oldest, 15, is doing 9th grade this year because I didn't feel he was ready for high school level work last year. He's dysgraphic, and in public school probably would have repeated K, but since I didn't do that....I made the decision a lot later. I *think* he is just a late bloomer, and am hoping the extra year gives him the time he needs, but it is totally just a best guess!

  2. I agree that, as you said, parental involvement is absolutely key, no matter what type of schooling you are doing. I believe that homeschooling is a great option because it separates the social problem from the academic problem, in addition to allowing a student to work at his own rate. For example, "Homeschooling a Handful," your son can work on a 9th grade level at home, but still participate with 10th graders (if that is his age range) in youth group or sports. I think it is absolutely necessary for kids to be proficient in the basics before they move on, but it is difficult to handle the feeling of "shame" or social difficulty, so homeschooling or private tutoring can help a lot in this way. The other factor is that often students who struggle with one subject may be fabulous in another. A student who needs to repeat 3rd grade reading but is working at a 5th grade level in math can do so in a homeschool setting. By the time he gets to college, language arts may still not be his strong point, but he will be reading and writing well enough to handle college, and he can pursue math or engineering at the higher academic level. My kids have often worked "between grades." I think of them as being in 6th/7th grade rather than one or the other. I put them in sport or youth group activities with other children of their own age range, regardless of grade.