Sunday, February 3, 2013

Retention on Repeat

A seventh grade student mistaken for a parent by a staff member. A 13-year-old in fourth grade. A first grader a two heads taller and more developed than all her classmates. An eighth grade student able to drive to school. Sound nonplausible? I have them all in my school.

Retention is an epidemic in my building and district. The district has pass/fail guidelines, and if a student does not meet them, chances are they will be retained and repeat the grade. Give them an extra year to make up what they didn't learn the first time through, and they're on their way. Since I recently found out that my school is in the lowest 5% of schools in the entire state, and our graduation rate hovers around 50% district-wide, my Spidey senses tell me there's a hole in that logic.

We could go on and on about the research regarding retention, but in short: retention doesn't work. Kids that are retained can lose their achievement gains from repeating within 2-3 years, are more likely to be unemployed, on public assistance, or in jail as an adult, may have negative social/emotional adjustment, are more likely to have negative social outcomes as adults (drug use, low self-esteem, emotional distress), and are 5-11x more likely to drop out of school or not achieve a diploma by age 20. In an urban setting with many of these problems already present in the community, retention is just one more strike against getting students prepared for a productive life in a post-school world.

Are there instances where retention is a good option? Sure, but educators must look at it on a kid-by-kid basis and consider the whole child (academics, social/emotional development, maturity, physical development, etc)--not use blanket guidelines or benchmarks.

Since we can't change the system, we need to work at a building and classroom level. What are some other options for educators, aside from retention? NASP has some great ideas in this excellent article. A sampling of some that would work within an urban education framework, for the short attention-spanned :) :
  • "Early developmental programs and preschool programs to enhance language and social skills. Implementing prevention and early intervention programs is more promising than waiting for learning difficulties to accumulate.
  • Early reading programs: developmentally appropriate, intensive, direct instruction strategies have been effective in promoting the reading skills of low-performing students. 
  • Systematic assessment strategies, including continuous progress monitoring and formative evaluation, to enable ongoing modification of instructional efforts.
  • Student support teams with appropriate professionals to assess and identify specific learning or behavior problems, design interventions to address those problems, and evaluate the efficacy of those interventions.
  • Extended year, extended day, and summer school programs that focus on facilitating the development of academic skills.
  • Tutoring and mentoring programs with peers, crossage, or adult tutors focusing on promoting specific academic or social skills."
Here are two other article resources from NASP:

How does retention look in your building? Does your district have academic benchmarks for students to meet in order to be promoted to the next grade? What do you do instead of retaining/repeating students?

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