5 factors to consider when parents request grade retention for their child

Conversation topics educators can have with parents in making individualized decisions about a request to retain, which may present more challenges than benefits for the child long-term
By: | August 7, 2020
Photo by Ryan Franco on UnsplashPhoto by Ryan Franco on Unsplash

Parents may want their child with a disability to repeat the grade he was in before the COVID-19 outbreak to ensure he doesn’t miss out on any learning. But retaining the student could present more challenges than benefits for him in the long run.

“First and foremost, [teams must] follow state law and local board policy. Beyond that, retention decisions need to be so individualized; schools really should look at the best interests of the student in the long-term,” says Amy Clay, a school attorney at Schwartz & Shaw PLLC in Raleigh, N.C. “For older students, retention can be a predictor of dropout in the future.”

At the same time, educators and administrators don’t want to immediately dismiss parents’ request during an IEP meeting for their child to stay in the same grade or they may be denied the right to meaningfully participate. Consider these factors to contribute to the conversation with parents and administrators about whether a student should remain in the same grade he was in before the COVID-19 outbreak:

  1. The context. Remind parents who are concerned about their child’s move to the next grade that their child will be reentering school in the context of all students reentering school having had their learning changed, Clay says. “Everyone lost three months of typical, in-school learning and likely every student is going to come back with some degree of impact from that.”
  2. The student’s skill level prior to the pandemic. Look at whether the student was meeting expectations before the pandemic hit or whether he was already being considered for retention, Clay says. There may have already been concerns about the student moving to the next grade. Review why.
  3. How the student did during remote instruction. Along with reviewing whatever progress monitoring data you collected remotely, ask the student’s parents for input on how she learned at home. “Nobody knows how the student experienced learning during COVID-19 like the parent,” she says. “We should be asking questions about any concerns about regression, particularly in young students.” Look into whether the student is behind on any foundational skills, such as basic reading skills, that she will need to be able to build on in higher grades. “Retention may be appropriate if [the student] would benefit from the repetition of the grade and moving on would really do the student a disservice,” she says.
  4. Potential alternatives to retention. Keep in mind that retaining older students could put them at risk of dropping out in the future. It may be better to discuss with parents what potential interventions or services could be incorporated into the student’s programming to alleviate their concerns while also mitigating any risks the student may have for dropping out later on.
  5. Parents’ transition concerns. Parents may show concern about their child transitioning from elementary school to middle school or from middle school to high school during the pandemic and want their child to remain in the grade and school he knew before in-school learning stopped. Talk with parents about their concerns and discuss what transition supports would be available to their child, Clay says. The student may need more functional or social supports for a while, she said.

Cara Nissman covers autism, school psychology, and IEP team issues for Special Ed Connection, a DA sister publication.