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“My Kid Might be Held Back a Grade – What Do I Do?!”

As Spring report cards make their way home, some parents are hit with the alarming news that their kid’s performance is not on track. This notice can cause parents to panic, wondering if their kid will be held back a grade, whether or not they should be, and what they can do about it.

If you’ve received notification that your child may be held back a grade, here’s what you can do:

1. Investigate why

If you receive a notice that your child may not be promoted to the next grade, investigate why. Is it for academic reasons, such as not being able to read at grade-level proficiency? Is it that your kid has social or emotional challenges that make it hard to fit in with their peers? Make sure you clearly understand why the school thinks that retention is warranted for your child. Check out your local Parent Training Center to learn if the school’s decision aligns with your district’s policies on grounds for retention.

2. Question their reasoning

The general consensus among experts is that retention is not usually the best choice for students and that it should only be considered after other alternatives have been explored. Question the school’s reasoning to ensure they’ve tried other approaches before suggesting retention:

  • If they say it’s because your child is struggling to learn at the rate of their classmates, ask what interventions they’ve tried to get your kid up to speed

  • If they say it’s because your kid didn’t perform well on standardized tests, raise the possibility that your kid may know the material but struggle with time constraints or test formats

  • If they say your child seems to be struggling emotionally, ask what the school has been doing to help your child overcome emotional challenges

3. Consider potential benefits

There are scenarios where retention may be the right choice for your child’s long-term success. If any of these situations apply to your kid, consider that retention might be a positive option:

  • When your child missed an excessive amount of school due to illness, moving, or death of a loved one

  • When a child is developmentally immature (being held back can reduce the stress of trying to keep up with same-aged peers)

  • When a child has behavioral issues that are clearly linked to academic stress

4. Determine a diagnosis

If your kid is at risk for being held back due to learning challenges, it’s important to have your child evaluated for impairments or disabilities that could impact their education. If your child does have a diagnosis, simply holding them back a year might not be effective. For example, if your kid struggles with attention issues, they won’t benefit from just being taught the same way two years in a row. A better approach would be to promote your child to the next grade, while working with the school to create a 504 plan or IEP that would provide your child with effective classroom accommodations.

Interested in Diagnostic Testing for your child?

5. Engage your SST & CST

There are two groups that can support your kid if they’re having difficulty succeeding within the regular classroom setting. The Student Study Team (SST) consists of the teacher, administrator, parent, student, and sometimes special education teacher. This group works together to come up with interventions to improve the student’s progress. The IEP Team or Child Study Team (CST) is a multidisciplinary group of professionals that can support your child with consultations, evaluations, and special education services. These teams can advocate for appropriate accommodations and recommend potential alternatives to grade retention.

6. Request an IEP or 504

Individual Education Plans (IEPs) and 504 plans are not the same thing, but they both aim to help students succeed despite disabilities or learning differences. If classroom accommodations are enough for your child to succeed with the standard curriculum, then a 504 Plan may be sufficient in getting them up to grade level proficiency. If their diagnosis greatly impairs their learning abilities, they may need an IEP that provides a specially tailored curriculum with individualized goals. A Specialist in Educational Psychology can help you determine if your child has a diagnosis and what educational plan(s) will work best for them.

Click here to learn more about Dr. Marta M. Shinn, Specialist in Educational Psychology and special education consulting

7. Seek support

Getting notice that your child may have to repeat a grade is scary news to any parent. Walking into a school and questioning their decisions can also feel very intimidating. The good news is, you don’t have to do it alone. Our Specialists can assist you in supporting your child and ensuring that decisions are made in their best interests.

*Please note: since the publishing of this blog, Variations Psychology has narrowed its focus to diagnostic testing and psychological evaluations. Our Doctors can evaluate whether you or your loved one have a diagnosis and guide you through the next steps in achieving your mental health or academic goals. While Variations does not offer counseling, our diagnostic evaluations allow us to refer patients to specialists who are best equipped to meet their needs. In addition, this link can guide you through a directory of therapists, psychiatrists, treatment centers, and support groups in your area.

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More about Variations Psychology

Variations Psychology is a group practice specializing in Child and Family Psychology.

Our specialists provide therapy to infants, children, adolescents, and adults to help them overcome the many challenges they may face throughout the lifespan of a family. We also conduct diagnostic testing of child and adult conditions that may impact the family’s mental health and development (e.g. ADHD, Autism Depression, Anxiety, Learning Disorders, college entrance exams, graduate and professional licensing exams such as MCAT, LSAT, GRE, CBEST, NCLEX, GMAT, CA Cosmetology Exam, CA Contractors State Licensing Exam, and CA Bar Exam).

See our Specialists page to select the specialist that best suits your need, or simply give us a call and we will guide you..

Variations Psychology is located in Newport Beach, CA and provides counseling to residents throughout Orange County and its surrounding areas including Newport Beach, Newport Coast, Irvine, Shady Canyon, Laguna Beach, Laguna Hills, Coto de Caza, Corona del Mar, Costa Mesa, Yorba Linda, Dana Point, Laguna Niguel, Aliso Viejo, Mission Viejo, Pelican Hill, Crystal Cove, Rancho Santa Margarita, San Clemente, Lake Forest, Huntington Beach, Sunset Beach, Seal Beach, and more.


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Shinn. M.M. (2018). Accommodations for College Entrance Exams: What Parents Need to KNow Psychologically Speaking. [Variations Psychology blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.variationspsychology.com/blogs/does-my-child-need-accommodations-for-the-sat-act

Shinn, M.M. (2018). Should I Get My Kid Tested?  Psychologically Speaking. [Variations Psychology blog post].  Retrieved from https://www.variationspsychology.com/blogs/schools-out-should-i-get-my-kid-tested

Volpitta, D. The School Says My Child Needs to Repeat Third Grade. What Can I Do? Understood.org. Retrieved from https://www.understood.org/en/school-learning/choosing-starting-school/moving-up/the-school-says-my-child-needs-to-repeat-third-grade-what-can-i-do

How to Cite This Blog Article:

Shinn. M.M. (2019). My Kid Might be Held Back a Grade – What Do I Do?! Psychologically Speaking. [Variations Psychology blog post]. Retrieved from: https://www.variationspsychology.com/blogs/my-kid-might-be-held-back-a-grade-what-do-i-do