This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that takes place a year later. It can be any year. Explore the past year or another significant passing of time to a character. Go where the prompt leads!
As usual, my thoughts turn to children and education. The one year later prompt made me think of the déjà vu situation that must occur when children are required to repeat a year at school.
This is my response to Charli’s prompt. I hope you enjoy it. Below are the thoughts about repeating that led me here if you are interested.
Dear Mr Emu,
As Eddie performed below expectations on some tests, he must repeat next year.
Dear Mrs Grimbald,
Which tests did Eddie fail? I’ll bring him up to speed over the holidays.
Dear Mr Emu,
Eddie’s ground speed is unmatched. He failed lift-off.
Inability to lift-off is inherited. No one in Eddie’s family ever lifted-off. Advance him.
Dear Mr Emu,
Parents shouldn’t discuss limitations lest they become self-fulfilling.
Inability to lift-off does not limit Eddie any more than your inability to run limits you. Adjust your curriculum. Progress our Eddie.
Principal Grimbald huffed. How impertinent.
Thoughts about year level retention
I have never been one to suggest that a child repeat a grade at school and always reluctant to agree if suggested to me. If schools really espoused what they profess about children being at the centre of a process that recognises individual development and personalises education, there’d be no such thing as repetition of a grade level. In fact, there’d be no grades and children would learn what they were interested in at their own pace.
I saw a great poster recently (sadly, I didn’t keep it and can’t remember where) that said something like,
We teach children at their own pace and then use standardised tests to assess their progress.
It not only sounds crazy, it is crazy.
With our current system of graded classrooms, there will always be children who don’t achieve what’s expected by the end of the year. Repeating them may seem like we are recognising they haven’t achieved it ‘yet’ and are giving them extra time to do so. However, in most cases I have seen, it does little to enhance academic achievement and causes more damage to self-esteem than it is worth. Often it results in reduced expectations for the child. Centring education on the child rather than other-imposed content is long overdue.
As part of my studies of literacy acquisition and development, I worked with adults who had not yet learned to read — such a debilitating and often humiliating situation for them. These adults had low self-esteem, lacked confidence and little sense of self-worth. All claimed that they weren’t clever and apologised for not having done well in school. Each one admitted to having repeated a grade in school even though I hadn’t requested that information. I was saddened, not only that they were unable to read, but that they were still so weighed down by their repetition at school. I thought if school had failed anyone, it had failed them.
I saw the same thing in my role as a literacy support teacher for those not making the expected progress in primary school. Most of those requiring support in the upper year levels had already repeated a year of school. When asked what year they were in they would say something like, “I’m in year five. I should be in year six, but I got kept down in year two.” How sad that they had been crushed so early in life. I tried to reassure them that there was no need to explain or apologise. I felt if anyone should be apologising, it should be the system.
While these are my perceptions formed from my own experiences, research supports my thinking. I read only one paper, that by Brenda S. Tweed of East Tennessee State University, that appeared to show positive results of repeating. However, even in that paper, the importance of maintaining a repeating student’s self-esteem is recognised.
This paper, published by Frontiers in Psyschology, recognises grade retention as a more contentious issue and concludes, as do I, that it has a more lasting negative impact.
Similarly, an article published on Healthy Children.org responds to the question ‘Should my Child Repeat a Grade?’ with ‘Ideally, no. Repeating a grade―also known as “grade retention” ―has not been shown to help children learn. Children won’t outgrow learning and attention issues by repeating a grade. In fact, repeating a grade may contribute to long-term issues with low self-esteem, as well as emotional or social difficulties.’
In the paper To Repeat or Not to Repeat?, Dr Helen McGrath of Deakin University in Melbourne summarises the conclusions from research into repeating this way:
• Repeating does not improve academic outcomes
• Repeating contributes to poor mental health outcomes
• Repeating leads to poor long term social outcomes
• Repeating contributes to a negative attitude to school and learning
• Repeating results in students dropping out of school
• Repeating decreases the likelihood that a student will participate in post-secondary schooling
• Repeated students demonstrate higher rates of behavioural problems
• There is no advantage to students in delaying school entry for a year in order to increase ‘school readiness’
• There are huge costs associated with students repeating a year of schooling.
• Some students are more likely to be recommended to repeat than others
Similar findings are also reported by the Victorian Department of Education, Australia.
It seems that most of the research supports conclusions I drew from my observations. I’m sure you will all have your own opinions. Some of you may have repeated a class at school or have a child who has repeated or was recommended to repeat. I’d love to know what you think. As an educator, I couldn’t help sharing these thoughts and ideas that led to my flash fiction response to Charli’s prompt. I hope it now makes sense.
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.