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Retention for Non-Academic Reasons
Q: My son's first grade teacher and the school district have sent me a letter indicating that my son may be retained in first grade. Their concerns are not academic, but his maturity. He was tested before being permitted to enter kindergarten at age five (July birthday) and passed. He has a shy personality. My concerns are since he's shy and if I agreed to retain him, how would this affect him? I'm worried about his self-esteem and withdrawal. I'm not even sure the school is justified in wanting to retain him since he's doing fine academically. Are they comparing him to the other boys who are basically a year older than he is? Help please!
A: For many children, retention is a very traumatic experience that will still bother them as adults. No matter how sensitively teachers and parents handle retention, children tend to believe that they are being taken from their classmates because of some failure on their part.
Your concerns about retention are justified. It does damage self-esteem. Furthermore, researchers have found that children with high self-esteem are more likely to succeed in school because they believe that they are capable and have the ability to develop competence in school tasks. Years later, you'll hear children who have been retained making remarks like, "If I had only done this, I'd be in fourth grade now."
We rarely support retention and are even less enthused about holding children back when it is suggested for non-academic reasons. Since your son has shown that he can handle the academic activities, there does not seem to be a good reason to retain him. According to the National Association of School Psychologists, retention has not been shown to be successful when it is linked with "developmental immaturity."
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Peggy Gisler and Marge Eberts are experienced teachers who have more than 60 educational publications to their credit. They began writing books together in 1979. Careers for Bookworms was a Book-of-the-Month Club paperback selection, and Pancakes, Crackers, and Pizza received recognition from the Children's Reading Roundtable. Gisler and Eberts taught in classrooms from kindergarten through graduate school. Both have been supervisors at the Butler University Reading Center.