Michael Silverstein and colleagues reported interesting data about whether children who are retained during the early grades later require special education. Exploring the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study–Kindergarten Cohort (ECLS-K, ), they found that many children who were retained continued to experience academic difficulties, but never received an IEP.
Receipt of Special Education Services Following Elementary School Grade Retention
Michael Silverstein, MD, MPH; Nicole Guppy, MD; Robin Young, MA; Marilyn Augustyn, MD
Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2009;163(6):547-553.
Objective To estimate the proportion of children who receive an Individualized Education Program (IEP) following grade retention in elementary school.
Design Longitudinal cohort study.
Participants Children retained in kindergarten or first (K/1) grade and third grade, presumably for academic reasons, were followed up through fifth grade.
Main Outcome Measure Presence or absence of an IEP.
Results A total of 300 children retained in K/1 and 80 retained in third grade were included in the study. Of the K/1 retainees, 68.9% never received an IEP during the subsequent 4 to 5 years; of the third-grade retainees, 72.3% never received an IEP. Kindergarten/first-grade retainees in the highest quintile for socioeconomic status and those with suburban residence were less likely to receive an IEP than retained children in all other socioeconomic status quintiles (adjusted odds ratio, 0.17; 95% confidence interval, 0.05-0.62) and in rural communities (0.16; 0.06-0.44). Among K/1 retainees with persistently low academic achievement in math and reading, as assessed by standardized testing, 38.2% and 29.7%, respectively, never received an IEP.
Conclusions Most children retained in K/1 or third grade for academic reasons, including many of those who demonstrated sustained academic difficulties, never received an IEP during elementary school. Further studies are important to elucidate whether retained elementary schoolchildren are being denied their rights to special education services. In the meantime, early-grade retention may provide an opportunity for pediatricians to help families advocate for appropriate special education evaluations for children experiencing school difficulties.
Should retention be a flag for special education evaluation? Some folks argue that it should. For example, using data from a study by Margaret Beebe-Frankenburger and colleagues (2004), Ryan Kinlaw answers, “Yes”:
Most students at risk of retention can be identified on the basis of ability measures and teacher perceptions at least by second grade. Possible strategies for minimizing the likelihood of retention include… focused and individualized assessment of their special education needs.” (Kinlaw, 2005, p. 5)
How does all this fit into the response-to-instruction efforts that are popping up in so many schools around the US? If we had a database of the progress-monitoring data that we could connect to data about teacher ratings, retention in grade, evaluation for special education, and so forth, what would we be able to learn? Would we learn that when a child has been retained, then he’s protected from being referred for special education? If so, is that a good outcome?
My hunch is that we’d find some students (~5-10%; not counting those who have physical disabilities) who started at the low end of the distribution on measures of literacy and had progress rates that were lower than most of their peers. They would very likely be among students who received tier-2 services. And they would be significantly more likely to be retained, evaluated for special education, etc.
Beebe-Frankenberger, M., Bocian, K. M., MacMillan, D. L., & Gresham, F. M. (2004). Sorting second-grade students: Differentiating those retained from those promoted. Journal of Educational Psychology, 96, 204-215.
Kinlaw, C. R. (2005, Fall). Sorting out student retention: 2.4 million children left behind? Durham, NC: Center for Child and Family Policy and Sanford Institute of Public Policy Policy Briefs. [link]