My Biggest Regret

First of all, I never meant to go almost 2 months without posting a blog! Working on my Ed.D. has left me little time to breathe…

Hailee copyWhen I reflect back over my years in education, I don’t have a lot of regrets. But, there is one decision that I made my first year of teaching that is my biggest regret. Retaining a first grader. I still remember her name. Her face. Her smile. And, when I think back to the reasons that I retained her, I now ask myself, “Did she fail me or did I fail her?”

Research shows that retention does not help students catch up (Shepard & Smith, 1990; Jimerson, 2001). Retained children may appear to do better in the short-term, but they are at much greater risk for future failure than their equally achieving, non-retained peers (Shepard & Smith, 1990, p. 84). In fact, there is a direct correlation between grade retention in elementary school and dropping out of high school (Jimerson, Anderson, & Whipple, 2002). One study reported that up to 78% of dropouts were retained at least once (Tuck, 1989). Grade retention has been identified as the single most powerful predictor of dropping out (Rumberger, 1995).

So, what is the answer? If a child is not “passing,” are you just supposed to promote them and move on? Won’t they continue to fall behind and never catch up?

Jimerson suggests that attention must be directed toward alternative remedial strategies. Researchers, educators, administrators, and legislators should commit to implement and investigate specific remedial intervention strategies designed to facilitate socioemotional adjustment and educational achievement of our nation’s youth (p. 16). From a reading standpoint, Richard Allington states, ” Too few schools offer effective remediation for older struggling readers. As a result, too many students don’t learn much from textbooks that they can’t read.” I think that this can also be said of younger students. If we continue to “shove” grade-level texts in front of students, when they can’t read on grade level, how can they learn if they can’t read it? Research shows that those students fall further behind. If we assess student’s reading levels, instruct them where they are, and propel them forward with scaffolding and leveled questioning, we can expect to see gains. Not only academically, but in the student’s self-esteem and confidence.

Once again, Richard Allington says it best.

When students read accurately, they solidify their word-recognition, decoding, and word-analysis skills. Perhaps more important, they are likely to understand what they read—and, as a result, to enjoy reading.

In contrast, struggling students who spend the same amount of time reading texts that they can’t read accurately are at a disadvantage in several important ways. First, they read less text; it’s slow going when you encounter many words you don’t recognize instantly. Second, struggling readers are less likely to understand (and therefore enjoy) what they read. They are likely to become frustrated when reading these difficult texts and therefore to lose confidence in their word-attack, decoding, or word-recognition skills. Thus, a struggling reader and a successful reader who engage in the same 15-minute independent reading session do not necessarily receive equivalent practice, and they are likely to experience different outcomes.

So, reflecting on my biggest regret, I wonder where “she” is today. Did she graduate from high school? Did she overcome my decision and become successful despite her grade retention? I have tried to find her on social media, but to no avail. If I did, I would tell her that she did not fail me, I failed her. I learned from that. I immersed myself in professional books and trainings and equipped myself with the knowledge of how to intervene for students who “weren’t getting it.” Now I know, and I try to empower and equip teachers with the knowledge on intervening so that students are successful and can perform on grade level.

Reflect on your teaching practices. What do you do ensure that your students succeed? What do you do for intervention? What are your thoughts on grade retention?

Let me hear from you!


*Photo credit: Denise Shaw Farmer/Tara Farmer Berry


Allington, R. L. (2002). You can’t learn much from books you can’t read. Educational Leadership, 60(3), 16-19.

Jimerson, S. R., Anderson, G. E., & Whipple, A. D. (2002). Winning the battle and losing the war: Examining the relation between grade retention and dropping out of high school. Psychology in the Schools, 39(4), 441-457.

Jimerson, S. R. (2001). Meta-analysis of grade retention research: Implications for practice in the 21st century. School Psychology Review, 30(3), 420-437.

Rumberger, R. W. (1995). Dropping out of middle school: A multilevel analysis of students and schools. American educational Research journal, 32(3), 583-625.

Shepard, L.S., & Smith, M.L. (1990). Synthesis of research on grade retention. Educational Leadership, 47, 84-88.

Tuck, K. (1989). A study of students who left: D.C. public school dropouts. Paper presented at the annual meeting
of the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco, CA.



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