Having a student who is struggling in school can be frustrating, but the prospect of “holding back” your child, or having them repeat a grade, is just as defeating. While you want your child to succeed, it’s hard to see them take a step backward and not progressing through their academics with their friends. So what’s best for your child?

Consider the research
The concept of advancing students to the next grade in spite of academic struggles (a.k.a. automatic grade promotion), has recently been put in the spotlight by those who believe educators pass students without thinking about the consequences. They say kids can’t succeed, and therefore shouldn’t move on, until they have mastered all the skills taught at a particular grade level.

The research, however, does not support grade retention alone. Students who repeat a grade may initially show improvement, but the gains decline after two or three years. In addition, these students tend to show more behavior problems, and grade retention is the most powerful predictors of high school dropouts. In one long-term study, students who were retained at some point in their education earned less money and had lower employment status. If your simply thinking of holding a student back so they can repeat the same subjects, you’ll probably end up with the same results. Some type of intervention, whether a tutor or special classroom accommodations, should definitely be considered.

Consider the social effects
Holding students back a grade often encourages friends and other kids to target them “failures.” Indeed, if you hold your child back, his or her self-esteem may take a hit, and they could be teased or ostracized by peers. On top of struggling with academics, students who are retained must adjust to new classmates and deal with the social consequences of seeing their original classmates move on.

Consider getting extra help
While grade retention certainly has its negative points, struggling students won’t benefit by moving on before they’ve mastered the skills they need at each grade level. To meet this challenge, experts say the key to improvement is individualized assessment and targeted attention.

So before you make any decisions about grade retention, seek a comprehensive, professional evaluation of your child’s existing strengths and weaknesses, academic, organizational and social. This could help identify a learning disability, which are deficiencies you’ll want diagnosed by the proper expert. On a related note, your student might be challenged by poor executive function skills such as organization and time management. Or it simply might be a comprehension issue. Whatever the case, talk to your child’s teacher, school counselor, principal, and even your pediatrician for recommendations.

Carefully consider the results of any tests or evaluations and then find a learning environment that will suit your child – summer school, a private tutor, or classes at a learning center. Choose a curriculum that takes a targeted approach to boosting your child’s weaknesses. Follow your child’s progress and support the educator by helping your child find a place and time to study that is conducive to learning.

Ultimately, grade retention may be the best option for some students, but it needs to be accompanied by additional interventions that strengthen your children’s skills.

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