Tuesday, February 10, 2015

My Child's Teacher is Talking About Retention. What Do We Do Now?

It's the time of the year when schools look at student progress and identify children who might need to repeat a grade.  Often they let parents know on the most recent report card or via a form letter.   If you are caught by surprise, it can throw you for a loop.  Here are some things that you can do to make sure you have a complete picture of your child's status, and also make sure that you know how to help.  It is incredibly important in this circumstance that you act positively and proactively.  Discussion about retention at this point in the year doesn't mean it's going to happen for sure, but it does mean there is a situation to be addressed and simultaneously monitored.  For the purposes of this article, I am mostly going to be talking to parents of children in grades K through 3.

1.  If you are caught by surprise, take some time to look at your child's report cards and test data from this year and last year.  Did the school indicate that there were concerns in the past?  Has your child missed many days of school, or often been late?  Has retention been discussed in prior years?  If so, what has the school done to improve your child's rate of success?  What have you done at home?  Gather everything together along with any relative emails or work examples from school, and go over it.  See if you can spot any trends or sudden changes in your child's performance.
2.  Schedule a conference with your child's teacher ASAP.  This is a conference for you to listen to what the teacher has to say, not to be defensive or to make demands.  You will want the answers to the following questions:
  • "Why do you think retention is going to be in the best interest of my child?  How do you think it will benefit them?"  You are listening for answers that talk about extra time to mature, extra time to build skills, create better relationships with peers, etc.  You do not want to hear that the decision is being made based on something vague like "school policy."
  • "What data is the school using to evaluate whether this is appropriate for my child?"  Make sure that the teacher has multiple data points.  Grades, work product, school screenings and test scores all fit together to paint a complete picture of your child.  One data point alone should never be used as a reason to retain a child.
  • "What programs or services will the school be offering my child to help them for the rest of the year?"  Whatever the school is offering, it should fit with the problem that the child is having.  For example, is reading a concern?  The school should be talking about strategies and interventions that specifically address reading. 
  • "Does my child need any evaluations from my pediatrician or the school psychologist?"  If the school suspects ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, a learning disability, or any other diagnosable issue, they should be willing to tell you now.  If you hear that they may suspect an issue, but they are vague about what it is or want to wait for an evaluation,  move onto step #3. 
3.  Make an appointment with your pediatrician.  Your pediatrician can look at the possibility of retention and help you rule out (or in) the following things that may be an issue in school:  hearing problems, vision problems, ADHD/ADD, developmental delays, and several other issues.  Bring the data that you have gathered as well as any other data that school has given you.  Request that your pediatrician make copies of all of their findings so that you can add them to your documents.  If your pediatrician feels that further evaluation needs to be done by a psychologist or psychiatrist to rule out specific issues, please follow their advice.  If the pediatrician feels that the school psychologist should do a psychoeducational evaluation, ask them to draft a letter to bring to school.
4.   Once you have gathered all of your data, go back to the school and ask for a specific, written plan covering what the school will do and what you will do between now and the end of the year.  Make sure that it's clear how often the plan will be monitored, and how that monitoring will occur.  Will you meet regularly?  Will you email?  Some schools have something called a Student Support Team (or something similar) that develops interventions based on solid research.  Those interventions are tried for a period of time and then the team meets to determine if they are effective or not.  Some schools write something called a Personal Education Plan (or PEP) for struggling students if they don't suspect they have a disability, but rather just need some intensive effort.  If the school suspects a disability, they will convene a team (which parents are a part of) to determine whether testing is necessary, and then to develop a plan based on the results.  Some schools refer to this as the "EC Process" some call it "Special Education", but both mean the same thing.
5.  Keep up your end of the bargain.  Make sure that your child is completing homework consistently.  Work on improving behavior if that is part of the equation.  Get help from additional providers if you need to.  School Counselors often have resources for extra help that they can give you.  Make sure your child is in school and on time every day.  School cannot be expected to improve your child to their potential if you don't help or ignore advice.
6.  Stay positive.  This is not about you.  It's not.  It's about your child.  For whatever reason, most of which is probably not the result of bad parenting, a poor school, (or any other excuse) your child is struggling right now.  And guess what else? They know it.  Even in Kindergarten.  They can see what other children in the class can do, and how much extra help they need.  More than anything, they need to know that the adults around them can give them the help they need to succeed.  You need to constantly communicate the idea that you are always proud of them for trying and that even though it's hard, you believe that their effort is going to be good enough.  Regardless of what happens.  And PLEASE......  Don't refer to retention as "failing the grade".  It's not failing.  Sometimes it's giving the gift of some extra time.  Something we all need every now and again.

Msg. me on FB at "Pamela Mecca Seymour, LPC" or on twitter @pam327.