I'm sorry to post this a day late. The Hannah thing kind of laid us all low for a day.
Now then, I was thinking about a note my girlfriend, Sarah, received from one of her students' parents. In it the mother wrote, "I don't think it's fair to fail him because..."
Let me explain a few truths. First, retention is NOT the same thing as failing. Failing occurs when you are in middle or high school and have not completed assignments, have failed quizzes and tests and/or have not attended classes regularly. You have made a pointed effort not to succeed and have therefore "failed". You may not go on until the course has been passed.
Retention means staying another year in the same grade. This is crucial in primary school in particular. Primary school children develop at such different rates and master skills differently and at different times. Just because one student is able to read on a second grade level at age six doesn't necessarily mean another will be able to when they are seven. Everyone knows children develop at different rates, especially when they are younger. So, it stands to reason that just because one child is ready to move on to the next grade the next one may not be. In fact, my former principal had twin daughters and retained one while the other went on a grade.
We call this the "gift of time". Often, a child is close to mastering skills, but would benefit from additional time and practice in the same grade. Sure, they are functioning close to grade level, but they would be far more successful with more time in the same grade.
Another consideration is what grade will the child be going to the following year if they are not retained. I find I am hesitant to promote a child who is struggling to read on grade level when I know they will be faced with Virginia's tough Standards of Learning (SOL) tests the following Spring. The children need to be able to read and comprehend independantly in order to be successful on these tests. If they are having a difficult time in the second grade, but are reading close to grade level, but not quite, I more often than not will reccommend retention.
The second part of the note I want to address is "It's not fair...". First, life isn't fair. Get used to it. I tell the kids that all the time. I'm sorry, life isn't fair, nor is it equal. Second, how is it "fair" to send this child to second grade, knowing he isn't reading on grade level? How is it "fair" to send him to second grade knowing he is still rather immature (yes, I have personal knowledege of this fella, since we work in the Vertical Team--I have his older brother in my class) and could benefit from a second year in the first grade? How is it "fair" to send him on when he is not all that confident in his abilities as a first grader.
So often children are "passed" on because the parent doesn't want them to have "failed" and they struggle with the work and the assignments. These children have a miserable time in school and school is NOT a fun place for them to be. So, they don't come, they make mischief, etc. On the other hand, I have seen SO many retention children have such positive experiences during their "repeating" year. They are already familiar with the content and begin to show an amazing level of self-conifdence. They are more often than not highly successful this second year, and are happy to be in school.
Finally, as someone who spends over seven hours a day with each child, I see many things parents don't always see. We aren't trying to retain children to "punish" them, or to "fail" them. A teacher's job is to ensure each child is as successful as they can be. We work to the best of our abilities to make sure each child is working to the best of their abilities. If we notice a child struggling, we want to do all we can to make that child confident and successful. If that means the "gift of time", so be it.