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Schools hesitant to hold struggling students back


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When a Franklin mother saw her sixth-grader was having problems keeping up in class for the second straight year, she asked the school to hold her son back from beginning seventh grade.

Jessica Jahn’s son started receiving D’s and F’s on his report cards in fifth grade, so Jahn had him work on his homework with tutors and his grandparents after school, sometimes for up to three hours. Jahn was hopeful something would change when her son started sixth grade last school year at Custer Baker Intermediate School, but his grades after the first quarter were the same.

That’s when she told school officials she wanted her son kept in sixth grade until he could improve his grades.

 

“If my child doesn’t feel like he can move on, he shouldn’t have to,” Jahn said.

But Jahn’s son still advanced to seventh grade.

Local school officials don’t want to stop a student from advancing unless there’s no other way to catch them up, they said. If  schools hold a student back from advancing to the next grade, they want to know students will learn more from repeating a grade than they would by staying with their peers while getting extra help to master lessons they didn’t understand the first time.

“We have to have reason to believe that there will be something about retaking the year which has a reasonable expectation of better success for the child,” Greenwood assistant superintendent of learning Rick Ahlgrim said.

On average, Franklin considers holding back between 10 and 15 students each year, but those are primarily kindergarteners and first- or second-graders who are still learning fundamental skills such as reading, executive director of curriculum and instruction Deb Brown-Nally said. Greenwood schools may consider keeping up to 12 students back during a school year, Ahlgrim said.

State law also requires that third- grade students be kept back from fourth-grade reading lessons unless they pass the IREAD-3 exam, which third-graders take each spring. This summer, 165 local third-graders had to retake IREAD-3 after failing the spring test.

Before Franklin or Greenwood officials consider whether  students should be held back, they need to know what would be different if they went through the grade a second time.

Often, hearing the same set of lessons a second time is not what students need, and there’s no research that shows holding older students back helps them better understand what they’ve been taught, Brown-Nally and Ahlgrim said.

Instead of stopping students from going to the next grade, schools prefer to review skills student still need help understanding while also teaching new lessons.

Nearly every area school district has extra courses and programs to help students trying to master math, language and other essential subjects catch up while also completing the same lessons as their classmates. And even if  students fail half of what they’ve been taught during the school year, that doesn’t mean they need to repeat everything, Ahlgrim and Brown-Nally said.

“None of us like to paint half the house and then have to go back and repaint half the house just to finish it,” Ahlgrim said.

At Franklin Community Middle School, Jahn’s son is taking the same math and English courses as his classmates in seventh grade. But he’s also been enrolled in classes where he’ll work with teachers to go back and review the reading, writing and math skills that he didn’t master in earlier grades, Jahn said.

Jahn is pleased with the extra help her son is getting but is still worried about him falling further behind. She regularly reminds her son that if he starts to feel lost, he needs to tell his teachers immediately.

“I’m just praying that we (do) not continue to have any issues,” Jahn said.

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