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Holding Back Young Students: Gift or a Stigma?

With the increasing emphasis on standardized testing over the past decade, large urban school systems have famously declared an end to so-called social promotion among youngsters lacking basic skills. Now the 8,400-student East Ramapo school is going further, having revived a controversial retention practice widely denounced in the 1980s to not only hold back nearly 12 percent of its first graders this spring but to segregate them in a separate classroom come fall.

 “This is very worrisome,” said Jay Heubert, a professor of law and education at Teachers College at Columbia University, arguing that both holding back students and separating them can lower self-esteem and academic achievement, increasing the likelihood of dropouts.

Supporters of the separate classes say they give struggling students a chance to learn at their own pace rather than setting them up for future failure by shoe-horning them into a uniform timetable. Since the 1970s, several schools scattered around New Hampshire have placed kindergarteners in what they call readiness.

Stripped of required social studies and science lessons, Gift of Time classes give teachers extra time to focus on basic skills, allowing them to spend several days on a single topic if needed. A reading specialist works with the students every day, and a speech therapist comes in every other week.

The article “Holding Back Young Students: Is Program a Gift or a Stigma?” appeared at June 25th in the “New York Times”


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