Why Retention, NCLB, and IDEA are Insane Bedmates

Retention. Sometimes I wonder if word flows out of the mouths of the people who educate my son so easily when they talk to the parents of kids without developmental delays. Last year, it got slipped  smoothly into conversation about this same time last year. I assume his special education teacher did it as a way to get me used to the idea early. I’m certain someone from above has asked her to grease the axles already and try to get on my good graces so this year I go along with it, but there’s just no way I can budge on the issue.

When it comes to my children, I am a force to be reckoned with. I work for the school system, so I’m not intentionally a pain, but once I take hold an idea, I don’t let go. If I know what’s right for my child, I’m going to fight for him. This past school year, I called in an Autism Resource Specialist, I did tutoring over the summer, I had an outside Speech Therapist do testing, and I sent in articles supporting my position. Finally, I wound up citing IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) when they didn’t listen to reason because they ultimately only wanted to hold my son back for social reasons, and there’s no support for that. He is entitled to the same education as his peers. I did understand that they wanted the best for him, but their idea of what was best and my idea of what was best conflicted. I think it had a lot to do with rising pressure put on the education system by No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act.

I should say that it’s unfortunate that IDEA conflicts with the NCLB Act. How does retention fit in? The school system might tell you that they must retain your disabled child, citing the NCLB Act. I’ll explain why this happens. IDEA states that students with disabilities should remain in age-appropriate, regular-education classes, in the school he or she would attend if he or she were not disabled, with the supports, accommodations, and assistive technology devices required to be successful. The NCLB act, however, states that “…each state must measure every public school student’s progress in reading and math in each of grades 3 through 8 and at least once during grades 10 through 12” and further that these “assessments must be aligned with state academic content and achievement standards.” As a result, many states decided to develop policies to hold students back who don’t pass the tests they developed in line with NCLB because the child isn’t “at grade level.” Although I firmly believe educators should do everything in their power to get a student up to grade level, I also believe that all students learn at their own pace and that some students just don’t perform well on standardized tests.

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Educators get caught in the middle of this entangled mess between these two acts that don’t agree with each other. They get held accountable for poor test scores of students who just aren’t meant to take these types of tests. As schools get handed “Report Cards” in North Carolina based on test scores rather than growth scores, the pressure rises, and kids like my son are forced to work harder and, whether meaning to or not, teachers forget that kids like him can’t learn like all the other kids. They further forget that it’s okay for him to learn differently. His different needs shouldn’t mean a return to 2nd grade next year. It should mean a change in philosophies. Too often we fail students just like him because we forget they just need something different. I’m not certain if schools in other states have moved to this “Report Card” system, by the way, but it’s a bit ludicrous. Anyway, I’m not okay with either (a) floating my child through or (b) giving up on him. He should both achieve at comfortable pace and feel good enough in his environment to not hate school.

Retention, though? I’m taking that off the plate. I believe in him enough to know he can hack the 3rd grade, even now. With appropriate accommodations and modifications and assistive technology, I see no reason why my son couldn’t move on to the next grade level. I’ve got students in the 7th grade who read at a 4th grade level and they’re surviving. I’ve even moved some students from a 2nd grade level up to a 4th grade level–and we’re talking 8th graders in these instances. They’re talking about retaining him at the 2nd grade because he’s maybe a grade level behind? No. I think we can do better. Now I just need to get the school to believe the same thing.






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I'm Jethro. I'm a carpenter, and love to build things! You can find me in the garage or at work most days of the week.My sister is Crystal, who you might know from this very blog. Her son Johnny loves video games just as much as I do - so we have a lot of fun playing together!

12 comments on “Why Retention, NCLB, and IDEA are Insane Bedmates”

    • Thanks, Sue. I think it’s more about policy than anything. I hate how policy drives decisions. If the people who made these rules understood how the minds of children worked, this wouldn’t happen.

  1. Yes, yes, yes! I hate this idea that ALL students should be on grade level ALL the time. Students who are a couple of reading grade levels behind can still function quite well and even grow with proper support. There is no research to support retaining a child for being a couple of reading levels behind.

    “I believe in him enough to know he can hack the 3rd grade, even now. With appropriate accommodations and modifications and assistive technology, I see no reason why my son couldn’t move on to the next grade level..”

    Good for you!

    • I had the same conversation with the school district last year. I even provided articles to support my position. He wasn’t retained last year. Now the r-word has been brought up again. We’ll see how it goes.

  2. When I hear of other parents struggling like this I am reminded how lucky we have been to have an awesome team for my son. His academics are top 5% but his social skills are in the percentages. Unfortunately we have also found indicators that test scores may not reflect his actual knowledge (he likes to press the wrong answer because it either makes a funny sound or he likes to eliminate the wrong choices. My hyperlexic been reading since he was 3 child failed a phonics review test. When we sat in his IEP everyone in the room (psychologist, speech therapist, occupational therapist, Autism support, teacher, principal and two parents) knew it was ridiculous. But we know this is something to watch over the next two years before testing starts to count in 3rd grade.

    I can’t speak for other children, I can only state that mine will NEVER be retained because he is lagging in social development. He needs the peer interaction so he can learn to socialize as a typically developing child would.

    Good luck to you.

  3. You are so brave for putting this out there! It is so funny that I am seeing this now. I teach resource reading for 5th and 6th grade and got my bum chewed out by my principle on Monday simply because of my student’s benchmark scores. That’s it. Nothing else.

    I am sure it happened after the district chew her out after reviewing the scores.

    Still— what a sad state of affairs.

    Regular ed. teachers will be rotating through my SPED classes until the State exam. I am beyond ticked off and the majority of my students are very upset (they know they cannot read at the same level as their peers and most are so embarrassed).

    I could say more but I am starting to get steamed again so before I break something I’ll just let it go from here…

    • Your students should NEVER feel embarrassed. I make my students feel successful at every opportunity. If they’re growing, there’s no reason why you should even get chewed out. Do you do progress monitoring so that you can measure their growth? Benchmarking doesn’t measure growth, it just tells you how they’d do on a state exam. Can you do a progress monitoring tool with them, like easyCBM (which is free)?

  4. Many showed growth since our last bench mark.
    Even then, the average reading level in my classes is at 2nd grade. It’s not very realistic to have district folks expecting them to pass a grade level reading test. It’s such a hot mess! And they wonder why the turn over rate for certified special Ed instructors is so high?!

  5. Sometimes there is so much emphasis put on doing well in state testing that it actually stresses my kids out. My kids get bombarded with worksheets a few weeks before testing happens and they get a lot of pressure to do well. I can understand wanting to see how well the kids are learning, but I agree that some kids don’t do well testing like this and shouldn’t be penalized for not scoring well.

    • I agree – it’s hard, though when the schools feel so pressured by the state. I understand that we should all make sure teachers do their jobs (grow students) because I want to know that my son’s teachers don’t give up on him and that they do everything in their power to continue pushing him forward as much as far as he can go. I think sky’s the limit for him. I just think that state testing is not the way to measure that growth.

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