Should Your Child Repeat a Grade in School?

A picture of a struggling school student
If your child is struggling in school, you may be wondering if you should hold him back a grade. Photo © Phil Boorman / Getty Images

Holding your child back a grade is one of the toughest academic decisions parents have to make for their child. Just as you have to be sure your child is ready to skip a grade, you have to be certain he isn't ready to move on to the next grade with his peers. Before you decide your child should repeat a grade, answer these questions to be sure you're doing the right thing:

Will Tutoring Make a Difference?

Sometimes kids have an awful struggle with one or two subjects.

That doesn't necessarily mean they need to be kept back an entire school grade, though.

Seek tutoring in those subjects to help your child get up to speed with his grade level. The extra effort may spare him from having to repeat the same grade over again.

Has He Been Tested?

Some schools will test your child so his strengths and weaknesses can be identified. Often, this type of testing can reveal an underlying issue and even intelligence testing can show you how your child thinks and attempts to solve problems.

Testing may show he's a gifted child so what parents and teachers thought was a learning issue may just be simple boredom because he's not challenged enough. Or testing could discover dyslexia or another learning challenge that is preventing him from conquering his school subjects.

Do You Have a Good Relationship with the Teachers?

Get to know your child's teachers. Tell the teachers you want regular updates if your child is struggling and keep that line of communication open.

If they don't call you, call them.

Yes, they have other students and can't call everyone every day. But your child isn't making straight A's and you need an insider in the classroom who can tell you what's going on. That is the teacher and she's the one who is seeing your child in class as students learn the new material.

Could It Be the Teaching Method?

What works for one student may not work for your child. Think about when you were in school and you loved certain teachers more than others. You were probably doing well in those classes where you loved the teacher.

The teaching method your child's teacher is using may not be reaching your child when it comes to learning. Your child may not love school and is struggling because of it.

Continue to talk with your child and the teacher to find out what you all can do to work better together. If you feel there's a complete mismatch between your child and the teacher, request for your child to be moved to another classroom. It's really nothing against the teacher. You just need to do what's best for your child so he can learn in the way that's easiest for him. 

Have You Talked to School Administrators?

Take your questions and concerns to school administrators. They're there to help.

If your child is bursting into tears over his homework, it's easy to assume he's showing his frustration in class too. But that's not necessarily so when he's around his peers and not wanting to show that he doesn't understand the day's lesson.

Talk to school administrators and, at the very least, put together a plan for your child.

Whether it's extra time with his teacher after school or assignments that you can do with him at home, the school wants your child to succeed as much as you do.

Is He in the Right School?

After talking to school administrators and you being involved in the school, you've gotten a good feel of how the school works. If you don't have a good vibe, it may be time to consider another school.

It never hurts to talk to other schools and visit them as you make up your mind. Some schools create custom curriculum based on the child's learning abilities so that they can excel in the subjects they're really good at while at the same time become stronger at the subjects that are more challenging to them.

Other schools don't lump children into a certain grade but group them into classes based on where they place in the school's admissions tests.

For example, an 8-year-old may test high in math and be placed in a fourth grade level math class but sent to a third grade level reading class. Kids don't know they're being sent to a high class here and a low class there because the school doesn't label them in the way we're used to.

Have You Considered the Research Behind Retention?

Study after study has been conducted on kids who have been held back in school. Many studies show kids who are struggling academically actually do worse when their peers move up a grade and they are left behind and can even lead to a school dropout in the future. Some studies go so far as to say that holding your kids back is can be  harmful. These studies have actually caused some states with retention laws to postpone their mandates.

That's not to say children should never be held back. But you're the parent and as many nights of sleep you may lose over this, you need to be 100% confident that holding your child back is what is best for him.

What Do You Think Is Best?

Teachers may spend a lot of time with your children but no one knows your kids like you do. When it all comes down to it, what do you think is best to make this a successful school year for your child?

Just know this won't be a decision you can make in a few hours or even a week. You'll need time to weigh your options, see if there's another solution and then make the final call. Armed with this info, you'll be able to make a well-informed decision for your child.