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Should my Child repeat a Grade?

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  • Article summary:

    There is much controversy on the topic of grade retention.

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Should my Child repeat a Grade?

Many parents have been confronted with the suggestion that their child repeat his/her current grade, and have agonised over a decision. Here are some thoughts to consider.

How far behind is your child?

No classroom has students all working at the same level in all subjects. There is always a range of ability and competency.

For example, a grade five class I taught had a student reading, with effort, at a grade two level, and another student reading and understanding at a university level. It was my job as a grade five teacher to work with these two students, and the rest of my class, in an interesting and individually challenging way.

Is your child behind in everything?

Rarely are students behind in everything.
Each child has a unique profile of strengths and needs. 

Ask the following questions:

  • Why are your child’s teachers saying he or she is behind?
  • Have they assessed your child?
  • Have you seen the assessment results?
  • Have you seen the kinds of assessments that were done?
  • Are they comparing your child’s work to other children’s work?
  • Can you see the difference?
  • Is there a difference between what your child shows you he/she knows at home and what he/she demonstrates at school?

Is your child behind only in reading?

Competency in reading does affect all subject areas. If your child experiences weaknesses in learning to read words and/or in learning to understand what he or she reads, then this will affect progress and success in most areas of the curriculum.

What will “repeating a grade” mean at your child’s school?

Will your child have the same teacher? This could be good or bad. The same teacher will know your child really well and could teach your child from where he/she left off the previous year. If, however, your child and the teacher were not a good mix, then a different teacher, who has been well-informed about your child’s strengths/needs, would likely be more satisfactory.

If your child has difficulties with reading, what options could the school provide other than repeating a grade?

  • If your child has experienced difficulty in learning to read easily in a large group setting, then, perhaps, a small group or one-on-one teaching situation will suit him/her better.
  • Or, your child could move to the next grade but receive reading instruction each day at his/her current grade, in a different classroom.
  • Or, if your child is in a split grade, the same thing could happen, but he/she wouldn’t move from one classroom to another.
  • Does your child’s school know about a range of teaching approaches?

Many children learn to read despite what teaching methods are used.

Children who experience difficulties with reading require tailor-made learning interventions.

Find out if your child is being taught how to:

  • Read words using picture cues
  • Read words using story prediction cues
  • Read words by figuring out how letters and sounds work together
  • Read words that are “unfair”, e.g. “said,”, “thought”, etc. by developing visual memory
  • Understand and remember what he/she reads by making pictures as he/she reads
  • Demonstrate reading comprehension by making organized sketches
  • Organise ideas before writing by making organised sketches
  • Find out if all of these strategies are being taught at your child’s school and if your child knows how to use them.

Is there a difference between your child’s academic development and his/her social/emotional development?

Is the school suggesting that your child repeat a grade because they feel that your child could benefit from a year of social development? Do they feel that a grade repeat would enable your child to get along better with peers, handle school rules and routines better, etc.?

Can your child deal with the academic requirements of the next grade but his/her social maturity is at a less well-developed level? If your child is socially immature, how will he/she handle the decision to keep him/her in the same grade? In the same classroom?
If your child is socially mature, but not progressing academically as well as expected, then the next question could be:

Is my child learning more slowly than expected because he/she has a learning disability?

If your child has been taught the tools that effective readers/writers use, and experiences difficulty learning these, then, perhaps, your child needs a formal cognitive/academic assessment of his/her learning processing, in the areas of oral language, written language, phonology, visual-spatial, processing speed, attention, memory, executive functions, and mathematics.

Will a tutor catch my child up?

  • If your child has missed learning because he/she has been ill, then, perhaps, the above interventions will catch him/her up.
  • If your child has experienced attention and behavioural issues, then once these are addressed then, perhaps, the above intervention will catch him/her up.
  • If your child exhibits a learning disability, then a short-term intervention may not be able to catch him/her up. Your child learns differently, and he/she will need to be taught differently, in order to make academic gains. It is difficult to predict how long catching up will take. In fact, that may not be possible in the short-term. However, as I will discuss in later articles, I believe that all children can learn the tools that effective readers/ writers use, and that they need to learn these. No matter how long it takes.

What purpose will a repeat serve?

If your child is in nursery school or grade R, then a repeat could give him/her a more satisfactory school beginning. If your child is in grade one and beyond, then there is always a range of capabilities in each classroom, and being behind might not make any sense, really, as has been discussed previously. If your child is moving to a new division, e.g. from grade three to four, or to a new level, e.g. from primary school to high school, then, perhaps, a repeat might give him/her the support he/she needs before this major transition. If your child is in high school, there are more options, taking a subject on a lower grade is an option.


When your child enters school, he or she is immediately in a lock-step system. Yet, each child makes individual progress. It is so difficult to fit your child into a system. I don’t have a definite leaning one way or the other about whether children should repeat a grade. I do think that we all need to think about, and ask, a number of questions before we make such a decision. I also think that it should be the adults in a child’s life that need to think about, and ask these questions, before a final decision is presented.

Sylvia Hannah

Sylvia Hannah is a “retired” teacher and reading specialist. With an MEd, she has spent forty years thinking about, and learning, how to make reading, spelling, and writing easier for her students. 



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