The mere thought of retention brings up a myriad of questions. Will it help? Will it hurt? Could it be the answer to the tears...the tantrums...the conflict...the dropping grades...the developing low self-esteem issues? Desperate parents want to know. They are...well... DESPERATE...to know.
Unfortunately, there is no clear cut answer. While research generally shows retention to be a stressful life event with little to no true, long-lasting, positive returns, there ARE certain kids who could benefit from the extra time, generally those smaller, younger, less mature kids who are already struggling in pre-k, kindergarten, or first grade. To decide whether or not the extra time would benefit your child, think about the following:
1. Would your child mind being held back?
If your child would be upset about being retained, it's probably not the best idea. Better to stick with getting your child the additional support he or she needs through private tutoring and/or special school programs. While this might entail lots of extra work and a stressful year (or two), your child is likely to catch up as long as he or she doesn't have a severe learning disability holding him or her back. In fact, whether you decide to retain your child or not, targeted tutoring from a skilled expert in your child's field of need is always a recommended solution.
On the other hand, if your child is on the young, immature side and wouldn't mind being held back, the extra year could give him or her the time he or she needs to learn to read, write, gain a better number sense, etc. without the added stress of being held accountable for tons of new concepts piled on top of the ones he or she is already struggling to learn. An immature pre-k or kindergarten student might actually ENJOY being held back rather than thrown into a higher grade full of more challenging work assignments and increased expectations, especially if he or she already has friends about to enter the grade he or she would rejoin...and doesn't have any younger siblings in the grade below. Still, keep in mind that if you decide to retain your child, the key will be getting your child targeted help by someone truly skilled in teaching whatever areas your child is currently struggling to grasp. Don't fool yourself into thinking the extra year itself will make the difference. Most likely, your child is in need of more direct, explicit instruction to catch up. Don't waste the extra time merely hoping another year will do the trick.
2. Does your child have a learning disability?
If your child has a significant learning disability, he or she will probably always struggle to learn new material. This isn't likely to change. While an extra year might give you and your child a little breathing time to catch up with missed concepts and skills, you will most likely be back in the "lion's den" as soon as new material is once again being introduced. And if your child suffers from memory issues, which is often the case for struggling students, he or she is likely to keep forgetting the material he or she ends up "mastering" during this extra year and needing constant reteaching anyway. Because of this, an additional year is not likely to change your situation much. It will only give you a bit of a rest. So, again, the question would be more about maturity level, age, "the basics," and how tired you both are. If your child is immature, young for his or her grade, still missing the very basics, and/or extremely stressed out over homework and school, an extra year might be a welcomed relief. It might give your child the time he or she needs to gain some necessary reading, writing, and computation skills. But the real solution will still require intensive, systematic, direct instruction strategies, otherwise known as targeted tutoring, from a skilled expert. And you will need to be realistic about your gains. They will probably be lost within 1-3 years. Still, an extra year to gain necessary reading, writing, and "number sense" skills can sometimes be extremely useful in the earliest school years, particularly in pre-k and kindergarten.
If your child doesn't have a severe learning disability and is merely behind for some reason or another (missed school days, an ineffective teacher, poor focus, new to the country/area, etc.), targeted tutoring by a master teacher should help your child learn whatever skills he or she is currently missing, enabling him or her to catch up during the next school year. If this is the case, retention is rarely a good idea. The only reason you might consider it would be if your child is EXTREMELY far behind, young, and/or emotionally immature, and you think the extra year is needed for time, language, and/or maturity purposes.
3. What are you hoping to gain?
This is really an important question to ask. What are you hoping to gain?
If you are simply hoping to gain TIME and LESS STRESS, retention might be the solution. At least temporarily. Just keep in mind that time and less stress are not "cure-alls" -- except sometimes in the case of immaturity, chronic absenteeism, English as a Second Language issues, and other largely non-academic areas of concern. Once again, any real academic improvement will most likely require effective educational interventions. Period. Developmentally-appropriate, intensive, systematic, and direct instruction from a MASTER TEACHER is vital to helping struggling students in their time of need. Sometimes you and/or school personnel can fill this need; other times, you must seek outside help. If you think extra time will help you do this, retention can be a plausible solution. You'll have fewer new concepts to deal with and will probably have less "extra" homework as well. Plus, your child will probably feel more comfortable with the material, and will thus have a little less anxiety to deal with. All of this can lead to more time to focus on whatever your child really needs to learn, often basic reading, writing, and computational skills.
If retention is not an option you would like to pursue, however, a gifted teacher and/or tutor can often help your child make the necessary gains (particularly with reading, writing, and general computation) if you are both able and willing to put in the extra hours necessary to help your child master the new information and skills...on top of all of his or her other requirements. You just need to be prepared for a double dose of stress and homework for a while. If this sounds like a better plan to you, forced promotion might be a better route. It will most likely mean a really challenging year to struggle through, but it will allow your child to avoid the long-term stigma that often accompanies the notion of "being held back."
In the end, you will need to carefully weigh the pros and cons of either retaining your child or forcing the promotion. Once a child has fallen behind, there is no simple solution. Do some research. Talk to your child's teachers. Ask your child what he or she thinks. Then weigh all of your options. Just remember that targeted help in any difficult subject areas is a MUST, whether or not you decide to hold your child back. And while a little extra time can sometimes help get a child back on track, if your child has a learning disability, he or she will probably always struggle to master new, challenging material. If you fear this is the case, formal testing and a long-term educational plan will almost certainly be a better option, especially after the k/1 years.
All the best and much success,