Can You Repeat That?

In 2010, the Wall Street Journal published an article titled “The Parental Push to Repeat a Grade” explaining the story of a mother who made the decision for her daughter to repeat the second grade after she was continually struggling with her math homework and lacking social connection with her peers. While I am not able to state whether this was a helpful choice for the family and their daughter’s education, the mother did include that after repeating second grade, she was pleased with the progress her daughter had made. After looking deeper into the topic of grade retention, I was surprised to discover that numerous parents make this same decision to hold their children back due to mental, physical, social, and educational development. This is separate from the number of children who are held back as a result of standardized testing. According to the National Association of School Psychologists,

“Most struggling students should be promoted, but given special help to erase deficits, such as different teaching methods, tutoring, small-group instruction, summer school, after-school programs or diagnostic assessments for possible learning disabilities.”

Well what does this mean for students with learning disabilities? In our schools these are students who are often overlooked in terms of evaluations surrounding cognitive-ability, language, and psycho-educational assessments, receiving additional attention once they are falling severely behind in the classroom. These are students who are facing challenges in the classroom that are not resulting from behavioral or social development. These are students who need specialized and individualized education. And these are students who could be hindered by repeating a grade.


The National Center for Education Statistics’s Data from 2013-2014

By repeating a grade, either as recommended by a teacher or a parent, students with learning disabilities can face an array of adversities. These may include: humiliation, emotional trials related to their self-esteem, or even thoughts of being a “failure” for having to repeat a grade, just to name a few. By repeating a grade, a child will be forced to learn skills in the same ways, resulting in what could be merely minimal steps towards learning the material. Speech-Language Pathologist Linda Balsiger from Bend Language and Learning notes that the primary reason students are held back is as a result of their reading. This is the foundation to learning and the basis for all other subjects within our education system. Later in the article “Should You Hold your Child Back a Grade?”  Balsiger includes the official position on grade retention from the National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities. These three stances outline why it may be counter-productive for a student with a learning disability to repeat a grade:

“The weight of the evidence of literally hundreds of students shows that retaining children does not produce higher achievement.”

“Neither social promotion nor retention address the problems faced by children who find school learning difficult.” 

And my personal favorite, “More of the same does not work.”

More of the same work does not work! We, as those backing these education systems, need to recognize the importance of gearing towards remedial interventions and specialized education plans. These interventions can specifically target skills such as reading, writing, and math for a student with a learning disability, ultimately preparing them to succeed in future grades. Literacy programs such as Reading Rockets provides additional ideas for instructing students with learning disabilities such as: reading one-on-one or within small groups, working on word recognition, segmenting readings, setting straight-forward objectives, and targeting word comprehension, to list a few.

So don’t fall into the mentality that students with learning disabilities are “just not trying hard enough” or that “they need to try learning this material again next year” as every student learns at a varying rate and by different processes. Let’s strive to keep our students in school, continue to educate ourselves on intervention research, instruct specifically towards the needs of those with learning disabilities, and refuse to settle on the “solution” of grade retention. We need to place value in our differences, build confidence, and recognize the strengths of EACH student in the education system.


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6 Responses to Can You Repeat That?

  1. meerabp says:

    I agree, I think this is a common concern especially in elementary classrooms where it is more common to hold kids back a year. I was just wondering how you think the role of the teacher fits into the decision to hold children back a year. How much influence do you think they should have over the child’s potential re-schooling of a certain year?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. madisongoers1 says:

    That is an interesting question, Meera, and I think my option differs from what actually happens in school systems. Personally, I would argue that repeating a grade may be what is best for the student in terms of lacking maturity, excessively missed school days/class time, and children who would be hindered by moving forth with the building material in the next grade. With that being said, a learning disability differs from a students academic potential, effort, and intelligence. I think teachers should contribute to this decision but in most cases, I don’t think that grade retention is the most effective way to teach students specific techniques to excel with a learning disability. Ultimately, by consulting each professional working with a child (whether that be teachers, speech-language pathologists, tutors, literacy coaches, psychologists, etc.) and considering what is in the child’s best interest, a specialized plan for future learning can be devised. This is a tricky question though because there isn’t a black and white formula to state whether holding a child back will hinder them or allow for them to blossom the following year. I hope this gave you a little clarity on my thoughts and I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic as well!


  3. haydenvick says:

    Hey Madison,
    First of all, I love the post. Through volunteering I have seen numerous students whose parents chose to have them repeat a year, and some of these students had learning difficulties, while others may have just been developmentally behind. I’m curious as to your opinion on how teachers can best go about implementing new and exciting curriculum for students who have repeated the grade. How can teachers best go about giving students who are in their class for the first time the same positive experiences as a repeater through different curriculum? Is it possible for teachers to provide a repeater with a new educational experience, different from that of the rest of the class, while still treating this student the same as the rest? Let me know if you have thoughts on this!


    Liked by 1 person

  4. madisongoers1 says:

    Thank you, Hayden! I think depending on the grade level and the reason(s) why a student is repeating the grade should influence how the teacher approaches teaching or re-teaching the material. The reason why I decided to write this post was because I found it to be ineffective to re-teach a student with a learning disability in the same fashion as the year before. In many cases, this learning disability is not representative of a student’s potential for success and their knowledge, demonstrating the importance of discovering effective methods for conveying the class material or implementing intervention methods. Whether this be focusing on specific learning strategies, breaking the material down into smaller steps, setting manageable goals, and recognizing the ways in which that individual student learns best. Ultimately, it is important to remember that a learning disability is an obstacle that this student is facing, and it is important that teachers focus on the student’s strengths while instilling confidence. Though it is difficult to give each student in the class individualized attention, I think a lot of this can be done in intervention meetings and smaller classroom settings, like group work. I don’t think this necessarily means adapting the teaching material and ciriculum each year, but teaching students with learning disabilities adaptive strategies that will allow them to thrive in the classroom and in future classrooms. Though it is likely that each year cannot provide a completely “new educational experience,” I would hope that a student repeating the grade is able to succeed and will hopefully be able to learn the material in a new light that may make more sense to them. I think this really has to do with developing strategies and goals for a successful learning environment. This is a tricky question though as there isn’t always time for teachers to cater one-on-one to individual students and adapting the entire curriculum would be a great deal of work on top of the current material. Your question does present a great point and highlights that we need to make this a positive learning environment and outlines why it may be tricky for any student to repeat a grade. If you have any thoughts on this matter, I would love to hear your opinion and/or ideas for presenting an innovative learning environment for students repeating a grade!


  5. liznels says:

    I found this post to be insightful and a great topic to choose, as most people are not aware of the difficulties that individuals with LD’s face beyond the actual process of learning. In the comments above there have been questions as to how the role of the teacher fits into grade retention and individualizing attention to these students. I agree with you that repeating a grade and, therefore, learning the same material in the same way, probably is not as beneficial to students as it could be. After thinking about this for a little while and considering the strategies that my brother, who has a learning disability, uses, I think that teachers should use multiple teaching methods (auditory, visual, kinesthetic and variants) to teach the material the first time. This way, if a student has a more difficult time with visual processing, there are multiple unique ways to process and grasps the information, as well as repetition, which allows for more opportunities to grasp information. I would love to know your thoughts as to whether you think that this would be feasible by teachers and/or useful to these students.

    Liked by 1 person

    • madisongoers1 says:

      Elizabeth, I love the connection that you made to your brother and the strategies that allowed him to excel in his learning. Thank you for sharing! This week I read a lot about different teaching/learning methods and specializing instruction to fit the specific learning disability. Within a classroom this would be encouraging the student through the multiple learning methods and allowing them to take away techniques that work well for future grades/classes. This is also an option that would be helpful for the entire class as they would be able to identify their learning strengths and weaknesses. I think this is both feasible and useful to students whether they are diagnosed with a learning disability or not!


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