Can Middle Schools Hold Students Back a Grade?

Everyone has heard about students being held back a year in school, but many people have never met someone that has happened to. Some don’t know if that is something that schools do anymore.

Middle school students can be held back a grade. Students may be held back because they are young or socially immature for their grade, miss a lot of school due to serious illness, or do not reach the performance level they are expected to. About 2% of students in the US are held back every year.

Students may be held back for a few reasons, and it is good for you to know how to avoid making your child repeat a grade.

Why Might a Student Get Held Back?

Retention, or getting held back, can happen for a few different reasons. They are typically held back because they have not gained the skills that are necessary to move on to the next grade. This could mean having poor grades or a poor performance level. There are certain skills that students are expected to learn each year, and if a student does not learn those skills, they may be held back.

Another reason why a student gets held back is because they missed a lot of school. This often happens because of a serious illness that keeps the student hospitalized. Now that online school is getting easier and more universal, this reason is becoming less of a problem.

Students may also not have reached to social maturity level that is expected of them. Schools may consider holding them back a grade to give them time to mature. Some students are also on the younger side, with an August or September birthday. This may be part of some of these maturity issues and schools may think it is best to hold the child back.

Third Grade Retention

Third-graders are at the age when their reading skills are required to be very high. Students with lower proficiency in reading have a hard time keeping up in school. Schools have determined a specific reading proficiency that kids need to reach by the end of third-grade. Many students fall short of these reading standards, so there is a significant amount of state legislation requiring students to be held back if they fail to meet these standards. This is called third grade retention.

Seventeen states require third grade students to be held back if they are not proficient enough at reading by the end of the year. Eight more states–Alaska, Colorado, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and West Virginia–allow districts to enforce third grade retention but do not require it.

There are some exceptions, which are called good cause exemptions. If a student has limited English learning (three or fewer years), special education, parent or teacher recommendations, a previous retention, a portfolio that shows they have learned what they need to, or passed an approved reading assessment, they may be exempted from being held back a grade.

How Many Students are Held Back?

About 2% of students are held back each year. That number has been steadily decreasing from 3% since the year 2000. The percent of students held back in elementary school and middle school are slightly lower than the percent of students held back in high school. The percentage of Black and Hispanic students that are held back each year is higher than the percentage of white students that are held back.

More than 3 million students from 6-17 years of age have repeated a grade at some point in their lives. That is about 6% of total students in that age group.

Negative Impacts of Being Held Back

Holding children back does not actually improve their academic performance. In fact, it has been seen to be harmful to students. Getting held back can be very stressful for students. Children who are held back are more likely to drop out of high school.

Getting held back can also alienate a student from their friends. Lots of students make friends with the other kids in their grade. They also will know more people in their class as they continue through school alongside the same people. Holding them back a grade means that they won’t know many kids in their class.

Holding a child back can also damage their self esteem. When a child is held back, this can cause them to believe that they are stupid. In elementary school, I always heard that only stupid kids get held back a grade. It can be embarrassing to have to repeat a grade, and it could result in bullying.

If your child’s school is considering holding them back, try having a meeting with the teacher or principal so you can find out the reason why. There may be some other solutions instead of holding your child back, including tutoring, pull-out or after-school programs, or peer practice/group work. You can also work with your child at home to supplement their education. Often a child just needs a little bit extra help instead of having to repeat the entire grade.

Effects of the Pandemic

Quarantine was a difficult time for everyone, but it was especially hard on students. Kids had to adjust to online school, which is a difficult transition. Not only did they have to figure out how to learn online, but teachers had to learn how to teach online at the same time. There was a steep learning curve that a lot of students had a hard time figuring out.

Some students have been held back because of gap in their learning. As schools have opened back up, some students have had to redo grades because they missed too much vital information during the pandemic.

Some states or districts have given parents or guardians the option of choosing to have their child held back. This way, if the parent or guardian feels like their child has not gotten the learning they need, they can be held back. Not much research has been done, but there is little evidence to show that a parent choosing to have their child held back is any better than being held back by the school.

Since so many schools had to implement alternative learning methods due to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as online classes, we should expect to see more resources available to help students succeed and not have to be held back.