Coming Soon To A School Near You


Our state’s governor (Iowa) has proposed the idea of retaining kids in 3rd grade who need additional work in foundational basic skills. I find the idea of retaining 3rd grade students to be an interesting concept with possible values, particularly if you do it in 8th grade as well. But implementation will be difficult if you limit retention to preset break points as that will probably once again require high stakes testing to provide “data” to avoid having to think about or justify why a child is retained. I would guess that should this policy be implemented parents will be quite aggressive in wanting their children to move on to the next grade even in the face of overwhelming “data” that they shouldn’t.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to simply do away with grades altogether below 4th grade and let kids progress through the system based on their skills not their ages. In an ideal world we could extend this to 6th or 8th grade if we were willing to shift our “ industrial revolution” created paradigm of age based education to a more modern fluid model where, “what you can do” is more important than “who and how old you are!”
By doing away with grade levels the need for special education funds should ease, testing would become an instructional tool instead of instructional control and students could be guided to success rather than being pushed down one path after another in an effort to reach an age determined set of artificial objectives.

We have tried this system before and it worked just fine. We were still using it through 8th grade less than a 100 years ago it was called , “ the one room school-house.” Now picture that one room school-house with a team of teachers skilled in different areas working together with technology to provide a modern education in a living fluid system designed to meet the needs of the kids not industry, a test or artificially set age-determined goals.

If students who were lacking foundational skills were retained in 3rd grade a new set of problems and opportunities would be created.
The most glaring problem is what to do with the kid who excels in math but can’t read or vice versa. Will they be retained in 3rd grade and if so will their areas of strength be accommodated while their weaknesses are given additional support or will they as I suspect see the same curriculum that they saw the previous year with no meaningful changes? Adding boredom caused by repeating  skills already mastered  is virtually the same as connecting a battery to a ticking time bomb.
What happens if after a 2nd session of 3rd grade the student is still not ready for 4th grade do they then move ahead anyway having already lost both a year and a support system?
How are the criteria for retention going to be set, in our modern data crazed society it will almost certainly lead to yet another set of high stakes tests that at best are a snapshot of one hour on one day of a childs educational career in this case a 3rd grade student who can barely conceive of what retention means. The parents however will have a good idea what it means and in most cases will not like it.   To retain based on the teachers opinion and grades  just won’t work for the same reasons that suspensions, graduation rates, drop out rates and attendance policies are currently being questioned everywhere.
The most obvious benefit is the possibility that the old saw about, “ a rising tide raising all ships.´may be true. If the average level of skills going into 4th grade is raised by retention of currently less able children then we should expect a strengthening of the 4th grade curriculum to meet the average needs of this more highly skilled academic class? And if that occurs would it not follow that all following curriculums could then be strengthened through graduation from high school.
I would also guess that the retention levels in 3rd grade would start dropping precipitously after the first year that this policy was implemented. Children will notice the students who used to be ahead of them who have now been left behind and not want to emulate that situation. Parents will become aware that it , “can happen here.”  To me outside of academic proficiency  the one cogent counter balancing argument against social promotion is that retention will teach by example what will happen if school is ignored.   A second cogent reason for social retention is the spector of 8th graders driving to and from middle school with a car load of classmates.
Setting any break point in any fluid situation almost always causes a problem whether it be grade retention only at a particular grade level or setting a date to get out of Iraq. Things change, sometimes overnight, and any policy that deals with children and fails to recognize that children are the most changeable of commodities is doomed to failure even if it looks good, sounds good, and attempts to do good things.

It all boils down to would retention increase retention or decrease retention I can see the slogan now, The new three “R”s  Retain, Retrain, Re-brain

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About safrisri

I was a school teacher until retirement. I have taught at all educational levels from pre-school to college. My college degree is general science which I arrived at after 5 years and 5 different majors. A degree as it turns out, almost as valuable and in demand as one in Neo-Bulgarian Mythology. I have been around education for around 40 years and can remember when teaching was a pleasant, happy and creative job and our schools were the same. Now I'm the guy sitting on the porch with an opinion on everything.
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One Response to Coming Soon To A School Near You

  1. Mina says:

    If you think about it, retention, grade levels and “special” classes are just another way of segregating children. It’s just not as obvious as in the past, where they separated students based on race. Now, we separate people based on your intelligence (educational level) and social status.

    I find it ironic that the U.S. supposedly embraces individual differences, yet America is separated into states with its people separated into a variety of groups (legal immigrants, illegal immigrants, U.S. citizens, etc.). In any “official” form that you fill out about yourself, there’s almost always a guarantee that you’ll have to check a box about your race or your originality.

    These “subtle” methods of grouping people into categories sometimes makes me disgusted with a society that finds it acceptable to do so, but it is always easier to express your disgust. It’s not easy to change or to propose ways to change, so I really admire you for blogging this post.

    Thank you for the enlightening read!

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