577. Retention and Skipping!”

In every elementary school in which I’ve taught, all children in each grade have been promoted together in June. There may have been some mystery about which teacher they’d get, but they could easily figure out which grade they’d be in just by adding one to the grade they’d just finished. Children knew that they all had different strengths and weaknesses, and they knew that that was okay; it didn’t mean they wouldn’t get to move on together. That wasn’t so true when I was a child; back then (or at least, where I lived) it was common practice to retain or skip children. But until I recently heard of a child who was moved ahead because she’d learned to read better than her friends, I’d been assuming that that just wasn’t done any more.
It’s not that I think children should be segregated by age; I do like the idea of multi-age classes. Children can learn a lot by being with other children who are different ages. But I think that if a decision has already been made to group children by age, then preventing a child from being part of that grouping gives a bad message. Children who are retained or skipped are bound to see themselves and be seen by others as being too different to belong. And that perception is likely to follow them for a long time.
When teachers work with children who know or can do much more or much less than other children, those teachers have two responsibilities: to find ways to help those children learn at rates that are right for them, and to help them deal with learning faster or more slowly than other children. That means helping them feel neither superior nor inferior. It’s not an easy job; in several ways, it’s like swimming upstream. Children get feedback from other children and from adults, and it’s quite a challenge to make sure all of that feedback is appropriate. I think that’s why there’s a temptation to move children who learn at unusual rates to other grades.
But I think retention or skipping usually backfires. The adults I know who remember being separated from their peers through retention or skipping remember having trouble. Those who repeated grades tended not to rise to the top or middle as some adults hoped they would, and those who skipped grades often had trouble relating to the older children they encountered.
I’m not positive that this is ALWAYS true. Even though my own experiences lead me to think that retention and skipping make things worse, I’ve heard, from people whose perception and thinking I respect, that there are exceptions. Maybe there are cases when children do better after they are moved away from their peer groups. But I do think those children ARE exceptions; I think teachers ought to do everything possible to help all children move through the grades together.

Comments are closed.