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When Retention Fails

Elementary School Expert Advice from Barbara Potts

Q: Against the school's wishes, I held my eight-year-old stepdaughter back in second grade because she had a D in reading and math. She has had problems with these subjects since kindergarten, and I have tried relentlessly to get her help. I was finally able to get her tested last year for a learning disability through the school -- she scored exactly average, therefore not qualifying as having a learning disability. She hasn't done well this year in the second grade, either. I have questioned her teacher about my stepdaughter's lack of knowledge and comprehension, but she feels that she is doing fine. What can I do?

A: Since the teacher feels that your stepdaughter is doing well, why is she having problems? Is it lack of motivation? Are there problems with the family situation, such as not seeing enough of her biological mom? Have there been changes in your lives, such as a new baby or a move to a new house? Any of these things could explain the problems that your stepdaughter is having.

Write a letter to the principal suggesting the kind of teacher (caring, supportive, motivating, etc.) that you would like your stepdaughter to have next year. Sit down with that teacher as soon as school begins in the fall and set up a plan to support this girl in the areas she needs help.

Be aware that sometimes, even though teachers and parents know there is something wrong, learning differences don't show up until third, fourth, or even fifth grade. If your stepdaughter's problems continue, you may want to ask that she be re-tested at the end of next year.

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Barbara Potts has worked as an elementary school counselor for many years. She has a BA in psychology from Wake Forest University, and an M.Ed. in Guidance and Counseling from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.


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