Keep a 5th grader back? (long)

GrandmaDecember 26, 2001

My grandson is having difficulty in school - he's not unintelligent, but he's lazy and irresponsible and does not complete assignments. I don't know that he is flunking anything but his grades are not what they should be.

The school system has proposed that beginning when he goes back to school after the Christmas break, he be told that he is totally responsible for doing his assignments and that his parents are no longer going to be on his back to see that he gets them done. If he does not take responsibility, he will be kept back to repeat 5th grade.

As I said, this boy is not unintelligent. For Christmas he received a gift of a roller coaster to construct. The package contains over 1,000 parts and has an instruction book approximately 100 pages long. In 1 1/2 hours yesterday, he had reached the 30th page of the book and had the basic frame of the coaster constructed. That alone tells me that he is very intelligent.

I've been thinking about this and I feel that the parents should refuse to go along with the repeating the grade level portion of the school's proposal. (BTW, my daughter has asked me what I would do in this situation.)

It's my feeling that the school is teaching my grandson (and all students) to pass the state tests. They are not teaching to the best interest of the child, but rather to the best interest of the school system.

I applaud those parents in NY state who refused to let their children take a state exam. If this were my child, I would do the same - just tell the system, that no, he is not taking the test and as long as he is passing all his classes, I would not allow him to be kept back. (I have a friend who is an elementary principal and wishes more parents would stand up to the state against standardized testing.)

If and when the school teaches to his best interests, then the parents can discuss consequences for his laziness, but not until then. Yes, he should have consequences, but repeating 5th grade when he is obviously intelligent is not one of them.

I think it would in the end be more detrimental to retain him than to pass him.

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I disagree. First of all, let me explain that only a sufficiently bright child would benefit from being held back. There is no point in holding back a child who cannot improve his learning significantly. He sounds like one of my kids--very bright and immature. What the teacher is suggesting is that he be given more time to catch up with the marurity level he needs to be successful. As for testing, I do not know what state you are in, but ideally the state test would test the students on the standards they have set for each grade level. That way, if the teacher is teaching to the test, she is also teaching the curriculum set for that grade level. I started my brightest child a year late because he was so immature. It helped immensely. So many of my friends lament that they did not do the same for their immature sons--usually it is boys.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2001 at 4:29AM
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Is his irresponsibility happening with in-class work, or is it a homework problem? Has it been on-going for years, or is it a fifth grade specific problem? How exactly is the school teaching toward state tests affecting his ability/willingness to complete assignments?

Off hand, it seems that maturity level and willingness to complete required work would be key to a successful sixth grade and beyond. Since you do not believe that repeating fifth grade is a good consequence, what different solution would you suggest?

    Bookmark   December 27, 2001 at 6:09AM
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The child in question is actually my stepgrandson, although my daughter has raised him since he was 3. He has always been a difficult child to discipline and control.

His mother, whom he visits frequently, gives him everything he wants and he can do anything he wants when he is with her.

Therefore, we have two opposing forcing working here - his father and stepmother who attempt to discipline him and instill responsibility and a mother who gives him everything and enforces no rules.

Additionally, the school has known he has had the "I don't care" attitude since first grade. (I think he is just plain bored and I do see some signs of ADD.) He should have been kept back then, not in fifth grade when it could possibly be more damaging psychologically than helpful.

What consequences would I suggest? First, I would demand that the school test him for ADD and I would have him tested independently for ADD and learning distraction levels. (The father does not want to do that.) I've had lots of experience with ADD and have always felt this child might have it. I would also consider counseling in an attempt to determine what family issues might be the root of his behavior.

If not, then I would just keep moving him from grade level to grade level with the hope that one day he will wake up and realize what has happened. It's never too late.

I've known this kid for 7 of his 10 years. He is strong willed and he is going to do what he wants to do - he is off in his own world. He's not a bad kid, he is not hurtful, he is not destructive, he is polite and mannerly.

School systems teach kids to get them to pass the state tests so that the individual systems don't look bad. Therefore,they teach to the lowest achieving students in the class. They do not teach in the students' best interests.

If this were my child and I could afford it, I would consider private school where hopefully his strengths and weaknesses would be addressed. But that is not going to happen in public school.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2001 at 7:59AM
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I believe, perhaps, that the school is asking the parents to help here. They ARE trying to find a method that works for this fellow by impressing upon him that HE alone is responsible for doing his work, and that if he chooses not to there will be consequences. And, frankly, just because he's bright doesn't mean he's ready to advance to the next grade. If he isn't socially ready, or if he hasn't completed the necessary work (learning) for 5th grade, he's going to do poorly in 6th.

I'm not saying he should or shouldn't be left back. I AM saying that what's happening so far isn't working for him. Sadly, the most effective way for this situation to be solved is for all the adults involved to get together and cooperate and find an effective solution. That's not likely to happen given your description of the family situation. At this point, it seems that the next step would be to investigate various solutions--a learning center or educational consultant might be a good place to start. And it's possible that with all the confusion in his life, the young fellow would benefit from some good counselling.

You're right to want to find a solution now--if he goes to middle school or jr. high with his current problems, he's not going to do well and the rest of his education might very well be jeopardised.

Do keep in mind, though that even if he is retained in 5th--that could still give him the time he needs to mature--it could be a good thing in the long run. Especially if his family continues to challenge him mentally with good, thought-provoking projects and activities. There are often good opportunities at museums, zoos, 4-H has projects that involve electronics and engineering (it's not all pig-raising). Good wishes to him and your family.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2001 at 1:05PM
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In our state, if the teachers teach to the lowest denominator in the class, as you describe, most would not pass the high school exit exam and thus would never earn a diploma. Testing has changed from what you describe. I hope your state has changed too. With the new federal education program just passed this month, however, testing will change across this nation to match standards.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2001 at 1:13PM
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Concerning federal legislation re testing here's a portion of an article from the L.A.Times earlier this month:

"It falls to us now . . . to make this new law a reality across the country," said Hickok. "Our goal is to create a change in the culture of education which will now emphasize performance and results rather than just inputs."

Similar sentiments were expressed in 1994, the last time the federal government enacted education reform. Under that law, states were supposed to develop ambitious expectations for students and put in place tests to measure whether all students were meeting them.

But so far, only 16 states have met all of that bill's requirements, even though the deadlines have long since passed, Paige said. Six states have agreed to take steps to comply with the law, and 28 others--plus the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands--have been given waivers for more time.

But no state has been penalized for failing to satisfy the earlier law's requirements, even though the 1994 law gave the secretary of Education the power to do that."

Considering that the newest federal law requires 100% proficiency, then either teachers will have to teach to the lowest denominator, standards will have to be lowered or many students will not pass, just as they are not passing today.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2001 at 3:06PM
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Well, you apparently live in my state, and in recent years all the testing and accountability have changed. As of 2004, the seniors will have to pass the high school exit exam to earn their individual diplomas. Standards have been set and curriculum differentiated for each grade level. While the annual achievement testing is still changing, it is driving improvements. And California's standards are among the most stringent too.

    Bookmark   December 29, 2001 at 3:26AM
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Is this about a child who hasn't reached the maturity to take responsibility for his own work or is it about your dislike of standardized tests? I don't see what one has to do with the other.

What should or should not have been done in first grade is irrelevent. This is not about past mistakes, it is about his current problems. Whether schools should administer standardized tests or not is irrelevent to your grandson's current academic problems. There might be very good points about such tests, but that debate is another post in itself. I don't think it has anything to do with this child's lack of focus.

So focus on what the problem is now and how to go forward in the right direction for him to learn to be more successful. Notice I said "him learn to be" not make him. He needs to learn the skills himself because middle school will be a big change. Many 5th graders are very bright students but aren't ready for the demands that middle school will put on them emotionally. That is the part about self discipline, study skills, prioritizing, etc.

If he has those skills, regardless of his intelligence, he should be able to do what the school/teacher is asking in the second half of the year. If he doesn't, he isn't ready for the next level, regardless of his intelligence.

I agree with having two tests done for ADD, might as well make certain. But don't go into it looking for someone to affirm what you suspect, try to remain open minded and just wait and see what the tests determine.

Then focus on those study and responsibility skills, not just the academics. Both are equally important to school and life success. I would work out a "contract" with my child listing on paper his responsibilities and his plan to fulfill them. If he forgets assignments, he needs to learn to use an assignment planner. If he doesn't complete assignments, he needs to work on the self discipline to finish before he goes on to something else. Whatever the problems are, he needs to be involved with coming up with the solution. He is bright, he can do that. Let him use his problem solving skills to solve his problem.

The contract would include the final expectations, how to evaluate if they were met or not, and what the plan will be if they are not met. I would consider keeping him back if he is not able to get himself where he needs to be, he is not ready for 6th grade. Not as a punishment, it should not be thought of or talked of as a punishment. It is the solution to a problem. You don't want him to go into 6th grade with the same problems.

Suppose (for example) the academic requirements for moving to 6th grade were to know 50 states and capitols, recognize certain countries on the world map, do long division, label the digestive tract, read on a 6th grade level, and, oh, label the levels of the Earth's atmosphere. Those skills would be required, not because it looks good on the school's performance charts, but because they are prerequisits to what will be taught in 6th grade. Students will be taught information and skills that build on what they should already know. If they don't know that information, they cannot learn what builds on it.

The skills of responsibility, self discipline and study habits should be seen as prerequisits for the next level. He will not be able to achieve at the expected level in 6th grade if he does not have those skills. Therefor, he must demonostrate those skills before moving on.

OK, that was the long winded answer for yes, if he doesn't prove those skills, I would agree to hold him back. I would do so not as a punishment, but because it is what needs to be done to ensure his success in middle school and later in high school.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2002 at 10:54PM
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vindication for my position on standardized testing!

Here is a link that might be useful: Standardized testing in NJ

    Bookmark   February 8, 2002 at 9:54AM
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Bravo, Stephanie!

I don't see what a school's approach to testing has to do with one kid's refusal to do schoolwork. Even if you're right about "teaching to the test," what has that got to do w/ him not doing his homework? Do you want to help this kid, or are you willing to sacrifice him and his academic success and (more important) his self-discipline to make a point about a bigger, more amorphous issue?

And yes, being held back could be psychologically damaging, and he knows it--THAT'S THE POINT. The secret to discipline is to find something the kid will mind losing, and threaten to take it away--and then to TAKE IT AWAY. Or to find something the kid wants to avoid, and making it clear the dreaded consequence WILL be imposed.

He needs to be given a reason to care. All the normal external ones are ones he doesn't mind. Perhaps being held back will make him care, and give him the incentive to teach himself how to focus.

I think if I were frustrated enough, I'd leap at that offer.

Stephanie's right--middle school is really hard!

    Bookmark   February 13, 2002 at 12:17PM
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This child sounds like the son of my best friend. He has never "liked school" and worked harder at doing poorly than he would have at doing well. Parents have the responsibility of taking whatever means necessary to see that their offspring make the most of the education their tax dollars pay for, but it is easier to take "the school isn't doing anything for my child" approach while they sit back and wait for the school to perform an intervention. If your grandson doesn't get straightened out soon, he will be facing what my friend did last year. . . morgaging their home to send him to a discpline camp/school (which did little good) and then enrolling him in a corespondence school (because the public school refuses to baby sit him any longer . . .he had failed every subject since 7th grade) so he has any hope of a high school diploma. He is 17 1/2 years old today with probably no more than a 3rd grade education. If he had been held back in 5th grade, maybe the parents and the boy would have learned that he passes his classes or he won't advance to the next grade. My friend was SO EAGER to have her son labeled with ANYTHING. That way she could pass off the blame of her not taking the responsibility and the time each day to ensure he did his homework, she checked it over, helped him correct any mistakes, explained concepts he hadn't mastered and call the teacher to make certain he turned the work in. The schools and teachers can only be as good as the child's parents insist on their children being. When a child learns they can goof off all through school and their parents will ignore the situation, then the child goofs off and fails to learn. Teach a child that as their parent you will always expect their best, will be checking on homework daily, checking regularly with their teacher, and that homework comes before any leisure or play time, and the child learns from you that school is serious business and there will be nothing else in their life if they don't always try to do their best work. I hope the school holds him back if he doesn't show marked improvement. Both the parents and the boy need a wake up call while there is still time for him to escape from the life my best friend's son will lead. . . no education, no diploma, no job, no money, no future! How sad.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2002 at 11:13AM
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I went back and read ALL the posts this time. AHA! You are speaking not only about MY STATE, but MY COUNTY AS WELL! Those are some of my tax dollar he is wasting!!! Tell your grandson I expect him to make the most my dollars. I work hard for him to have a free education. There are a lot of countries in this world where he would have already received all the "free" education he could get. Here is something that you might actually want to pass on to him. My husband works for and does some hiring for one of the independant cities in L.A. county. When it comes time for your grandson to apply for a job, (and to him that might seem like a LOOOOOOOOONG, time away, but it really isn't) most city employers will take a look at what the prospective employees did throughout their entire education (not just the last few college or high school years). The employer takes a GOOD, CLOSE LOOK at what a person did with the time they were in school and were being offered "something for free" and all they had to do was accept it and learn. They look for phrases like "worked to the best of his/her abilities" They feel that if the applicant was not even willing to work to get something to benefit themself that was being offered for free, then this applicant might not be willing to put forth the kind of work they expect to get in return for the offered salary. If there is another applicant for the job that might not be as bright, but has worked hard all the way through school to the best of their ability, they will more than likely get the job. The employers look for proper work attitude and work ethics. They want to hire those who learned very young to always do your best. His lazy attitude toward school, even in these early years could come back to haunt him in his future if he ever wants a job in this city. Something to think about.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2002 at 12:21PM
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How sad for a potential employer to hold an adult man responsible for problems he had in elementary school!

    Bookmark   February 16, 2002 at 10:30AM
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I didn't express myself very well. I didn't mean adults wit 10-20 years behind them from high school. I meant teen agers or kids out of high school that had done the bare minmums to get by, who are looking to apply for summer work or full time jobs with the city. They get reminded that their past is following them and that a job is not going to be any easier than school had been.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2002 at 12:44PM
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