EducationPop Quiz

Pop Quiz: Repeating a Grade

When I was going through school there were a few students who were left back and had to repeat a grade.  This practice has gone out of favor in the school district where I teach.  This of course causes a lot of grumbling around the teacher’s lounge.  The problem as I see it is not that the student is promoted to the next grade, but rather that the skills that a student should have learned in the grade are lacking.  If there was promotion to the next grade AND supports were put in place so that the basic skills were learned that would be a different story, but I do not see that happening often.  What I see is social promotion being used to just get through elementary and middle school. Then once a student hits high school they stumble over course credit requirements to graduate.  What then is a person, who is lacking basic reading and math skills to do, but drop out of school?

On the other hand holding a student back may not be the silver bullet some of my colleagues believe.  Just repeating a grade is no guarantee that a child will now all the sudden learn the skills that they missed, but let’s say they do.  Let’s say that it took little Sally 2 years to learn the skills necessary to pass 2nd grade.  She is now reading and completing math on a 2nd grade level.  She is ready for 3rd, but how long will it take for her to learn the 3rd grade material?  In this scenario the underlying issue was never addressed and grade retention cannot go on forever.

My solution?  In elementary school there would be social promotion with supports.  If Sally was not reading and completing math on grade level she would go to the next grade, but she would have a “special” that would address her underlying learning difficulty.  (“A special” in the language of my district is anything in the elementary school that is not taught by the regular teacher in the self-contained class.  So, gym, art, library, classes for the gifted, speech services, etc. are specials.)  Instead of ignoring Sally’s issues she would be taught skills to help her cope and come to terms with her learning issues.  At the secondary level a failed course should trigger an intervention, and maybe the student would not have to retake a class if they do not need the credits to graduate, but the reason for their failure would be looked for and hopefully addressed.

So what about you?  How do you feel about a student being held back a grade?  Should failure in elementary and secondary school be treated differently?


Featured image: Classroom by William Creswell

The Pop Quiz is a question posed to you, the Scholars of Doubt. Look for it on Monday, Wednesday and Friday in the afternoon (ET).

Previous post

Warning: Grading Essays May Cause Concussion

Next post

Civil rights in charter schools, funding cuts, tenure hijinks, Oh students! Sing to me, with love! It's Required Reading 5/15/2014



Jennifer teaches science in a public school in Pennsylvania. She lives there with her husband and two dogs.

1 Comment

  1. May 14, 2014 at 9:42 pm —

    I think you allude to one of the critical aspects here, which is that repeating second grade is very different from repeating a class you did poorly in. It is quite possible that the student would do worse the second time around in other aspects, due to boredom, the social stigma, etc. Ultimately, the goal of schools up until you get to a situation where things are split by class should be to educate each student to their abilities, and prepare them for proper placement in later classes. This may mean LESS standardization in lower grades, recognizing that important things can be learned, and moving with a peer group is more beneficial than having someone repeat a grade. My sister Lucy went to regular elementary and middle schools (K-8), and then went to a special school in high school, when her special needs prevented her from getting much out of the regular curriculum. The peer cohort was valuable, and having those who need extra help be part of a group is important for visibility and acceptance of those with special needs.

Leave a reply