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Grade Retention Doesn't Always Make the Grade: Sylvia Rimm on Raising Kids

By Sylvia Rimm

Q. I'm the mother of three young girls ages 7, 9 and 10. What does research say regarding girls having to repeat a grade in elementary school? Our middle daughter works so hard, but struggles, despite receiving tutoring. I thought it might help her to repeat fourth grade.

A. There's a fair amount of research that indicates that, on the average, grade retention isn't effective and that students who are retained don't improve their school performance. The lack of improvement is typically attributed to damage to the child's self-concept.

With that said, there are times when I do recommend repeating a grade. I may do that if the child is young in the class and has average or below average ability. I help the child cope with it better by explaining to the child that being young in the class has given her a disadvantage. Also, I sometimes recommend it if a child is moving to a new school and is far behind. At the new school, no one will know she's been retained, thus the child can often adjust to the new environment more comfortably.

The best way to make the decision for your daughter is to have a psychologist evaluate both the cognitive and social/emotional components of a retention for her. You'll also want to have a better understanding of how her relationships with her sisters are affecting her self-concept and achievement.

Don't Hold Back Children Who Are Reading

Q. I have a 5-year-old son (he'll be 6 in September), and according to his kindergarten teacher, he's ready to go to first grade. He's the youngest in his class and in my opinion not socially ready. He's a very shy kid. Academically, he's a very smart boy. He's reading, and adding and subtracting. I know that if he repeats kindergarten, he'll be bored; at the same time, I'm worried that the other aspects of his childhood aren't fully developed to enter a first-grade level. What should I do?

A. The most important criteria I use for that decision is IQ score. If your son scores in the superior to very superior range, I consider it an advantage for him to be younger, because he's more likely to be sufficiently challenged in class. If his IQ score is only average or below average, I recommend that he wait a year in order that his schoolwork not be too discouraging. Of course, social and emotional issues are important, too, but children usually adjust to their peer surroundings, and the decision depends more on family values. If sports involvement is a high priority for the family, a young child could be disadvantaged for a sport like basketball, but I personally wouldn't worry about that kind of disadvantage. There are other sports that don't require height.

It's always difficult to predict when your child will physically mature relative to others his age, but overall, there's a great range of maturity in any grade, so your first priority is to be sure your son has appropriate academic challenges, but doesn't have to experience undue academic struggle. Research finds that boys who are "red shirted," or held back, from kindergarten tend to have more behavior problems by middle school, and you can understand that boredom could have that effect.

Dr. Sylvia B. Rimm is the director of the Family Achievement Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, a clinical professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and the author of many books on parenting. More information on raising kids is available at www.sylviarimm.com.

Categories: School-Age, Advice, Ideas & Stories, MomShare,

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