Angie Sullivan teaches early elementary grades in Las Vegas, where most of her students are English language learners, and all qualify for free and/or reduced price lunch. She regularly writes to legislators, trying to bring them into contact with the realities of schooling as seen by a practicing teacher.


She writes here about retention:



This is the time of year when primary elementary teachers discuss retention.



Even though all valid education research states retention should only be used in rare and special instances, it has become an unfortunate political remedy. When kids who are not supported properly fail academically – people leap to the conclusion that repeating a grade again is the solution. Again every scrap of real research shows this is not effective and in many cases detrimental- but it is politically popular.



Nevada has read-by-three legislation that CCSD (the Clark County School District) is preparing to implement. Another punitive measure which will be detrimental and primarily affect language learners and kids in poverty – because of lack of access and lack of proper support. It will be primarily minority students who will fail en masse in some parts of town. Legislators say it is tough love. It is actually a lack of understanding of learning and a failure to fund appropriate instruction. It is an attack on kids in poverty which is the real issue. It is very likely that two-thirds of the district will be retained at grade three if implemented.



Read-by-Three will be a living nightmare in Las Vegas. At-risk schools will balloon in second and third grades. Students will be hurt.



How do I know? Already we see the effects as Nevada teachers receive students who have been victims of this type of retention legislation in other states like Florida, Ohio, Indiana.



Currently a Stanford student who was retained in first and second grades three times in Florida – is finally being assessed for a reading disability at my school. This looks like a 10 year receiving instruction with 6 year olds in a first grade classroom – awkward and weird for everyone. It is not socially appropriate and actually disguised the real problem and best remedy. It is easier to punish a voiceless child than work to effectively to determine the real source of the problem. This child in particular was finally removed from her mother in Florida and placed with a step-father in Nevada. It is highly likely, it was parental neglect that led to her current situation and multiple retentions. Nothing that was the child’s fault, she is now socially out of place and years older than her peers. She will be 14 in the fifth grade.



Other states who have put this legislation in place already regret it or have had to revisit.



Besides the national failure of huge retention programs, Nevada schools also manipulate scores by retaining.



There are CCSD principals who routinely fail ten students per grade level to manipulate scores. How is this done? Identify the students who scored poorly – force disenfranchised parents to sign retention paperwork. Student scores are “hidden” because retained students “do not count” in the scores the next year. This is done at many schools that supposedly showed “growth”. Is this good for kids? No. It is a game played on communities of color to satisfy politicians and a number system the community demands for supposed accountability.



Again -retention in large numbers is inappropriate. Nevada will regret it. It will hurt at-risk kids. It is a remedy that has failed in other states. It also gets manipulated, hides real problems, and punishes kids who actually require the most help.



Please read the actual huge body of educational research. Change for the sake of change is not good change.



Retention is not best practice.



The gauntlet is already raised against 75% of children in Vegas. Poverty is the real obstacle which is not resolved by a stigma creating law which is punitive instead of requiring and funding real help.



Meanwhile I see very effective best practice – like class size reduction– is under attack in CCSD school board discussions. The acccounting gimmicks and tricks at CCSD never cease to amaze and confuse most everyone who sees the public relations campaigns against educators and kids. Never enough money unless there is a trip to take or a limo to ride in. Teachers are watching and see it all.



This is why we do not make headway.



Egos, power plays, bad managment, people who are not educators, people who have not read real educational research, implementing expensive ineffective change that won’t help anyone in my language learning, Title I, 100% free and reduced lunch classroom.