Sunday, January 18, 2009


Two of my wonderful students are a year behind their peers. One precious boy repeated kindergarten last year and one darling girl is repeating first grade. The boy has been struggling all year. He started the year below grade level in just about every area and continues to fall farther behind. We have just recently started the (very long) process of assessing for learning disabilities.

It's the girl that I find especially fascinating this year. I observed in her classroom some last year as I was attempting to gain some clue about life in first grade. She stood out in that room in part because she was a loner. She seemed completely isolated and uncomfortable. (It should be noted that she had absolutely fabulous teachers.)

At the start of this year she was a completely different child. She was confident, outgoing, engaged, everything we could have hoped. At the end of the first quarter I met with her father and he was visibly relieved to hear how well she was doing. He felt the right decision had been made in retaining her. We all did.

Now, halfway through the school year, I have my doubts. She seems to be pulling into herself more and more. She is disengaged during lessons, seeming to space out. She still achieves academically at a higher level than the great majority of her classmates, but it doesn't seem to matter to her. She's starting to resemble the student I observed last year.

I don't know what would have happened had she gone on to second grade. Maybe she would have struggled in the same way as last year from day one. Maybe at some point things would have clicked for her however and she would have soared. There's no way for us to know.

In the upper grades I didn't face the issue of retention in the same way as I will in first grade. It was unheard of for us to retain students at that level and I completely agreed. I was shocked last year to learn how many students we were retaining in kindergarten and first grade. However, I assumed I simply didn't have the knowledge to know what we should do.

Watching these two students has me wondering anew. Is anything gained when we retain students? How do we know when/if it will benefit a child and when it will hurt them?


Chickadee said...

Wow. Do you suppose there's something going on at home with the little girl? For her to have started so well at the beginning of the year and to see how she has regressed makes me wonder. How are the other students treating her?

Anonymous said...

If the girl had not been held back and had anything less than a perfect year, any sensible teacher would still ask these questions. Your team made the best decision you could with the information you had at the time.

Situations like this do give a lot of strength to aiming for more individualized learning plans. If a student who's having trouble has the freedom to spend extra time and get extra help on specific subjects, it sidesteps this artificially-created problem of when to promote students.