Sunday, August 21, 2011

Revisiting Retention

Today was the day in our county when you go to some type of county in-service.  At my school only one person in our Special Education Department goes, although it's meant for us all.  Over the years the message has always been "pretty boring" - certainly nothing to inspire you to be excited about a new school year. You usually come away stressed, wringing your hands or bored to the point of falling asleep. This year I drew the short straw... I arrived at the Convention Center and entered the appointed room - long metal tables with black lint table cloths, metal chairs in a room with two story ceilings and concrete floors.  Not exactly what I'd describe as warm and fuzzy.  The speaker was tethered to the mike and it was difficult to hear questions asked throughout the room.  I realized I hadn't attended this in-service day since 2004, but  from the sparsely populated room, I guess other teachers had heard some of the same stories of being bored over the year and just skipped the day.
Actually there was nothing in the presentation that I hadn't heard before.  The speaker tried to deliver the message in a calming, reaffirming way because really, with RtI there is a lot of disequilibrium.  There were really no new answers - just the same questions and frustrations.  The speaker, however, is one of my favorite speakers, one of the few in the department that I have really admired over the years.  She's knowledgeable, likable.

With all that said, there was one point today that really caused me to stop and think.  She quoted the well known research about retention - if a child is retained one year, he only has a 50% chance of graduating from high school.  If he is retained two years, there is a 90% chance he will drop out.  I have been aware of this research for years and even wrote a position paper for our faculty several years ago advocating against retention.  I have sat with many teachers over the years and implored them to reconsider retention in light of those statistics. I have asked them to consider how the child's program would be different if the child repeats. If it's just going to be a rehash of the same, then the retention makes no sense.  However, today I had to really think about if I believe that retention is ALWAYS so detrimental to our young Special Education children.  I have certainly recommended to teachers and to parents that a child delay entrance to kindergarten which would make them overage and have recommended that a child repeat kindergarten or first grade, especially a child that needs a stronger foundation in phonics or phonemic awareness because I am well aware that after first grade there is precious little time dedicated to decoding.  I think many of the Special Education teachers at our school have also recommended retention in the early grades, even though they know the statistics.  I would love to see the statistics for high school graduation of just retention data on students who are identified with special needs.  How many of the 50% that do graduate are special needs students who graduate because they had extra time to master those phonological skills in the early grade? I'm not sure that I believe that retention is ALWAYS an undesirable option.  Of course, I certainly believe there has to be a cap on the number of retentions.  There is no need for a child to be driving to 3rd grade!   I just haven't been able to get the conflicts I have about retention out of my head.  I guess I believe that retention should always be an option but should be considered very carefully, especially considering the research. 

There... now that I have dumped the words across this page, maybe I can finally sleep.

No comments: