If you want a very short answer: no. If you are still interested in the benefits and drawbacks of repeating a grade, read on.
Let’s start with a quick fact. A child will not outgrow learning and attention difficulties. Repeating a grade has no real advantage, except buying additional time to deal with existing issues. In fact, repeating a grade often contributes to long-term problems, such as confidence issues, emotional & social difficulties, and others.
Why repeat a grade?
So if repeating a grade has more negative than positive consequences, why would anyone repeat a grade?
Around 2% of children repeat a grade. The percentage keeps dropping (it was 3% in 2000) as neither the experts nor parents see any real value in repeating a class, except in some extraordinary cases. Rates are higher among children in households with low incomes.
Repeating a grade helps when time is required for a kid to go back to ‘normal’. In some cases, children need time to deal with a traumatic event that has negatively impacted their academic performance. Keep in mind there are only a few of these events that are traumatic enough to warrant a long-term performance drop, but it can happen with children who come into the country from war-impacted areas, are suffering from abuse, or similar traumatic events. These kids have to get professional help to deal with their psychological issues and that requires time, so it may be better for them to repeat a grade so they can follow the lessons with a clear mind.
In some cases, children with strong self-esteem who still have poor academic performance compared to their classmates might benefit from repeating a class. Keep in mind, their confidence might still take a hit when repeating a grade.
Some states have “third-grade retention laws” which require kids to read at a third-grade level in order to progress to the next grade. Why third grade? Because in fourth grade the classwork shifts from learning to read to reading to learn. If a kid is unable to appropriately read, then they cannot learn.
Exceptions to “third-grade retention laws” are possible, especially for kids with learning disabilities.
You can find the list of states with third-grade retention laws here: LINK
Adverse childhood experience (ACE)
Repeating a grade is considered an adverse childhood experience. Repeating any grade is a traumatic event and can have long-term consequences. Experts & researchers often link repeating a grade to later high-school dropouts and other social & emotional issues. In one study, sixth-grades rated going blind and losing a parent as the only two events they feared more than repeating a grade.
Yes, re-read that last part until it shocks you.
What can you do if your kid is in danger of repeating a grade?
Involve your kid’s teacher
Your kid’s teacher should absolutely be involved in your kid’s learning development. Teachers are trained to deal with these kinds of situations and can often offer advice from experience. If not, they can recommend someone who is able to help.
Involve your kid’s pediatrician
Your pediatrician may help as well. Depending on the situation your pediatrician may refer your kid for educational or psychological evaluations. These are nothing to be feared and can lead to diagnosis and eventual positive outcomes.
Work with your kid at home
Spend time doing additional work with your kid at home. Your teacher can recommend exercises based on your kid’s situation. If your kid has reading disabilities or similar disorders, our blog and the Learning to Read Guide can also be a source of inspiration.
Goals are important. Work with your kid’s teacher and set actual, tangible goals for your kid’s learning development. That will help you understand whether they are falling behind or catching up. Goals can include attendance goals, the number of words read per day, or anything that makes sense in your kid’s situation.
Use the summer to catch up
Allow your kid to have a break, but use the extra time available during summer & other holidays to catch up. This will make sure your kid can start after holidays closer to the class, which will make them feel better as well. Spending time catching up is also way better than repeating the grade.