This year I served on our school's retention committee. We spent almost all day meeting with teachers to discuss whether or not a student should be retained. It was surprisingly exhausting. As a classroom teacher when I had a student who needed to be retained I always felt very strongly about it. It was never a decision I made lightly and I always gave careful consideration to the student't emotional needs, the academic work, the family dynamics, the student's birth date and any other outstanding factors. It always frustrated me to have to come meet with a committee after I'd put all that thought into it and have to defend my decision a group of people who had never even spoken to my student. As a professional I felt that my opinion should be respected.
On the other side of the table I felt for the teachers coming with their students' data and talking points. Having been in their place I hated to ask questions that could be interpreted as second guessing a teacher's opinion because I know none of them made their decision for retention lightly. Sitting on the other side of the table however, began to change my perspective from one student's current, immediate needs and had me look at a student's long-term school career.
It was not easy. Even the most cut and dry cases for retention seemed to probe questions of whether or not retention would be helpful. At times we could all agree that a student would not be successful going on to the next grade, but we also had to consider whether or not retention itself would help the child be successful. Would retention address the issues at hand? Would it allow the student to have another year to mature or would it just keep an impulsive student back with peers who were younger so that the behaviors did not stick out as much? Would it give a student confidence and build them up or would it send the message that her hard work was being rewarded by being held back?
Until yesterday I feel that I would have argued for almost any student to be retained in kindergarten. Another year of language development and literacy practice could not hurt anyone, and I truly believe that reading is the most important skill a person can have. If sending them on to first grade is going to impede their ability to be a lifelong reader then they need to have another year of kindergarten. But yesterday I began to consider students I knew who had been retained and had not improved with another year of kindergarten. I began to think about these students in high school. I began to question whether or not retention would truly address the child's underlying issues. Another year isn't always going to solve a child's academic difficulties.
But there are times when it is absolutely appropriate. There are cases of students who have thrived from doing another year of kindergarten. There are times when retention is life changing.
I am thankful I work at a school that allows for a collaborative discussion of the students' needs. There is no black or white answer at our school- no formula that says "if x, retain, if y, move on". There is not a blanket statement that we cannot retain students. And although I hated it as a classroom teacher I do appreciate that there is a committee to help with the decision. Parents can know that their student's academic future was agonized over in a room full of professionals who tried their best to ask all the right questions in order to consider the best outcome for the student's future.