How Student Retention Or Promotion In Early Grades Can Be Effectively Utilized.

Having taught students at different levels–kindergartens, primary/secondary schools and a university–in a career that spans over 6 years in China, I chose to write this article in support of teachers and parents who are facing the big problem of Retention or Promotion for kids in early grades.

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In the course of my teaching years, I have seen kids with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – so many of them around China. Surprisingly, these students who are preferrably referred to as “special needs” pupils to avoid placing negative connotations to the meaning, can be very smart and competitive. A situation where they fail to improve learnings, becomes a problem for experts.

Therefore, this article shall focus on retention or promotion of early grade pupils/students in general, excluding those with disabilities and/or other medical problems.

Why A Kid May Perform Below Average:

In most schools, teachers tend to favor the smart, handsome, and beautiful children. These “lucky” lads are treated with silver gloves in the classrooms, given undeserved preferences during examinations and in extreme cases, gifted high grades even when their performances are below average.

Some “wealthy” or kind parents make things worse for their kids when they try buying favours from teachers. Bribes never work out for good in the long term because giving such, puts a blindfold on a teacher and directly puts his/her conscience in chains.

As a payback to some kindness offered, parents may unknowingly exploit the teacher’s vulnerability giving the child a negative advantage over other pupils.

All these points stated above, will manifest in a child’s academics sooner or later.

Unfortunately, a few kids suffer low grades, not because they don’t deserve better or work harder than most pupils, but for these following reasons:

  • The child is from a poor home, wears untidy clothes or doesn’t look physically attractive. There are irresponsible teachers who dislike tattered-looking pupils instead of helping to improve their hygeine level.
  • A parent has at one time or the other scolded the child’s teacher, or made unfair remarks about the tutor to higher authorities. This brings the Withdrawal Effect upon a teacher and the kid.
  • A teacher who has attitude problems may dislike a kid at first sight.
  • A kid suffers ADHD or some medical conditions that interferes with learning.
  • Bullying happens all the time and the effects can never be over-emphasized.

The points above lead us to the conclusion that “almost every kid can be perfect”, in an ideal learning environment.

I’m of the opinion that in a circumstance where parents/teachers need to decide if a student/pupil has to repeat an academic session due to below-average performance, or get promoted notwithstanding the low grades, a lot of variables as stated above should be considered before reaching a conclusion.

Should A Kid Get Promotion Or Retention?

Both parents and teachers can blame themselves for a kid’s failure as long as they care, if they fail to realize the root cause of a child’s backwardness and do what is necessary.

It is understandable that parents’ high expectations from kids come as a natural impulse, no matter the amount of cash paid for enrollment or the quality of school environment.

The cost of retaining kids for another year which, no doubts, falls upon parents, makes the concept of “retention” harder to accept.

Importantly, even in a circumstance where “the cost” isn’t a problem for involved parents, repeating a class comes with social and emotional problems which may arouse self-hate and lack of confidence in a kid’s growing years. The after effects may force students out of school in the long run.

In its 2003 “Position Statement on Student Grade Retention,” the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) concluded:

* Academic achievement of kids who are retained is poorer than that of peers who are promoted.
* Achievement gains associated with retention fade within two to three years after the grade repeated.
* Kids who are identified as most behind are the ones “most likely harmed by retention.”
* Retention often is associated with increased behavior problems.
* Grade retention has a negative impact on all areas of a child’s achievement (reading, math, and language) and socio-emotional adjustment (peer relationships, self-esteem, problem behaviors, and attendance).

Considering the negative sides of repeating a class, the simple but complicated question to be asked is, ‘should every kid be made to pass class levels even when it’s clear they’re performing badly’? The answer is no, but with a “what if…”

What ONLY Parents Can Do To Avoid Retention And Improve Scores:

When parents walk up to me on the streets or in a school and ask, “how can I improve my child’s learning”? I always give my candid opinion.

The painful truth is, most parents forget that learning starts from a woman’s womb, and then on her laps. As the child is born, the family serves as the first educators, and how well or badly this is done, goes a long way in deciding what a child grows up to be.

Parents who work 6-9 may be able to make useful impacts on a child, even in 30 minutes everyday–The words you speak to your kids; how you encourage and reward their improvements; how you treat and respect teachers and other pupils; how you stand up against failure in your family or business affairs; are all effective learning tools for a child. Children are great observers.

Parents should not leave kids in the care of househelps, family, friends or grandparents. Letting kids spend time with family isn’t bad, but letting those people handle their academics isn’t acceptable. Nobody can care better for your child except you.

Grandparents and family tend to pamper kids to stupor, at least, in order to avoid negative reports against them. Create time for your kids; give him/her the best love you have; call him/her from work; do not spare punishments when necessary; and get angry with family if you find out there’s evidence that they show no concern for your child’s misdeeds.

Parents should ensure that their kids eat well, get adequate sleep, and have a quiet or conducive place to study.

Lastly, refer to the 5-bullet points made above and see how you fare with your child.

My Opinion On Retention And Promotion:

I do not support the idea of repeating classes because the odds weigh against it, considering that “promoting a child for purely social reasons will ameliorate very few academic problems; and yet, retention appears to be even less effective”.

My reason for the statement above is backed by the fact that there are more effective ways that can bring the desired proficiency level in a child. The points include but not only:

(a) Placing the student in a quality summer school. These days, it is common to find schools that offer summer classes at competitive prices.

Parents are advised to search and enroll kids in schools that have earned high reputations–with less consideration on the price– instead of taking vacation trips.

(b) Make the kids understand that they’re skipping holidays for classes because of low-performance. Also assure them of rewards better than vacation trips (or better holiday plans) if they record an upgrade in their performances. A child will work harder if he/she knows there are rewards.

(c) Appreciation goes hand-in-hand with punishment: Offering only rewards may not mean so much for most kids who have seen it all. Rather, parents should strive to discover what things give their kids so much joy and excitement.

Use mild threats of withdrawing such if they fail to study harder, and you’ll see them improve for good.

(d) engaging a qualified private teacher for home studies can do the magic. However, be sure of the teacher’s personal, religious, and academic background so as not to expose yourself and the child to danger.

(e) Get to know your child’s teacher on a personal level. Share ideas and permit the teacher to offer punishments if necessary. When parents work with the teacher as a team, the child benefits.

Consider a situation where a teacher gives parents a tip on who’s their child’s best friend. The couples can plan together and promise their kids a wonderful summer trip together if they meet set targets.

This agreement can be made between kids and parents at the beginning of a term, to ensure that everyone stands a party to it. In this way, both kids serves as motivation to the other on daily basis.

(f) Be sure not to attach “sexual or emotional relationships” in your dealings with teachers. It is totally destructive just like offering bribes.

From the points above, it is clear that holding back a kid for another academic session comes as the last resort, if parents and teachers play their parts well.

But in a situation where all options have been exhausted with no result, we can now talk about repeating a class, and doing so to long term advantage. This points a finger to the school management.

What Schools Should Do To Guarantee Above Average Grades:

(1) The question of who decides grades in a school, goes a long way in solving the problem of promotion or retention.

Classroom Teachers should not be allowed to give scores in decisive exams, especially for kids in his/her class except where the exam sheets are subject to thorough reviews by a more qualified personnel.

(2) A teacher’s numeration is a deciding factor that ensures how well the job is done. Quality salaries come with motivation, and a kind of feeling which constantly reminds a teacher that he/she must prove they’re worth the pay.

Of course, no teacher would want to let go of a good job due to non-performance which directly reflects of the pupils’ academic performance. But sadly, most schools go for less qualified teachers in order to avoid the cost of employing an experienced teacher like “myself”.

Permit me to use “myself”, it owes to the fact that I’ve sent over 2,000 applications to schools in Nigeria over the past three months–especially to HR Managers and School Management Executives on LinkedIn–asking for a chance to contribute to my country’s education, but no offer has come yet.

(3) Schools should ensure that work conditions are considerate. If teachers have to work on weekends or during holidays, are they getting wages worth the over-time? Do they have leave(s) and do they get paid for such?

(4) Schools need to have human touch. In most schools here in China, a contracted teacher has medical allowances, contract completion allowances, flight fares, accomodation allowances, and more. But above those extra pays, what happens when a teacher falls ill?

Some schools offer free medical expenses for teachers–but only when receipts are presented from a government hospital. No financial reward can be better than a teacher knowing that he/she is loved and cared for, by the people they represent.

Do schools celebrate a teacher’s birthday? How about the kids’ birthday? I guess most schools don’t, but this is necessary. Preparation for all birthdays go along way in enforcing unity, oneness and most importantly, biulding pupils and students as a family.

(5) Bullying among students: I’ve seen students hate on others simply because they’re jealous of the one who seem to be smarter than them. Some kids threaten others from raising hands to answer questions, and at times, force them into playing games when a class is in session–just to ensure the smart ones fall backwards in grades, just like them.

This is where a teacher’s committment comes to question.

Every school must ensure that there are CCTV cameras to record daily events in classes–not only for security purposes. The surveilance cam will get teachers to stand to their feet, knowing that they’ll be responsible for what they did or failed to do.

On several occassions during classes, I’ve had to switch seats and talk to the classroom teachers about my observations.

(6) Every school should imbibe the culture of “all kids are wonderfully made” no matter the family, academic, religious or financial background.

(7) Quality Parents Teacher Association meetings should be held at the beginning of every term and again, at the end of the session. This’ll enable comments from both sides on observations made during the academic session.

Parents and teachers can also reach agreements on a way forward which works out for everyone, especially the students.

(8) The use of “Carrot and Stick” by teachers and school management should not be taken forgranted. Errant students should be punished according to the degree of their misdeeds, with expulsion being the highest.

Rewards for academic excellence as well as exemplary behaviours should be made public in order to use same as a source of motivation to others.

(9) Lastly, schools should have arrangments made for seminars, lectures and excursions that’ll improve every teachers knowledge and well being.

There should also be educational sponsorship programs for teachers. Where this becomes expensive for a school, yearly rotations can be applied to ensure every teacher gets a chance for growth.

Having stated all these, it is my humble opinion that no kid deserves to repeat a class if the problems are found, and solutions, well applied.

However, in deciding to retain a child, educators must reasonably believe that an extra year in a given grade is in the child’s best interest.

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