Recently, a mother wrote to me and told me that she feels like a failure because her son is going to fail the school year. I told her that she is not alone. At this time of the school year, many parents are knocking on the principal's door complaining – "My child is going to fail. Help!"
The most difficult decision that a teacher has to make is whether or not to fail a child. When that happens, most teachers feel like failures, too. Failure of any kind affects us. Our self-esteem suffers and we get depressed. There is a strong negative psychological impact.
Surveys have shown that most children who fail a grade in school will have academic problems throughout their years of education. Failure may even cause a child to become a school dropout.
It is my firm belief that requiring a child to repeat a grade is not to be taken lightly. There should be no secret about this possibility and no last minute surprises for the child and parents. If a child is performing poorly enough to fail, chances are that this poor performance started early in the school year – early enough for the teacher and parents to work together to improve the child's achievement.
Some parents have complained to me that teachers called them in December and told them that their child might fail the year. They said "How can that teacher know that so early in the year?" My answer to that question is "Thank goodness you have a teacher who is monitoring your child's progress so closely that you are fully aware of the consequences if nothing is done."
Teachers compare your child to all of the other children in class. When evidence appears that shows your child is lagging behind the others, the teacher has an obligation to tell you right away. Perhaps the academic deficiency or immaturity can be corrected through special attention.
A teacher cannot be expected to push a child on to the next grade level without the child achieving the basic skills necessary for success at a higher level. Too many pupils are given "social promotions," causing our schools to graduate students who can't read or do elementary math skills. No one wants that.
Most school districts take children into kindergarten at age 5. But, chronological age is not always an accurate indicator of a child's readiness for school. Some need an extra year or even two before they are truly ready for formal schooling.
Every school should have a published list of skills that are required for entering kindergarten. If your child cannot accomplish the majority of those skills, keeping him home an extra year is much smarter than having him fail later on.
But – a word to parents who keep that "not quite ready" child home for an extra year. YOU MUST DO SOMETHING TO PREPARE HIM FOR SCHOOL! Work on reading skills, counting, name recognition, social interaction, and other basic skills. Get that list of kindergarten achievement items and work through them one by one so that your child is prepared.
For those parents whose child may be failing – here are a few suggestions for possible tactics:
1. Insist on some form of remedial support, counseling, or testing NOW.
2. Hire a tutor.
3. Check the school district's promotion regulations and become very familiar with them.
4. Get your child's cooperation and input – after all, he is the central figure in this drama.
5. Work hard at home to improve study skills.
6. Keep in constant contact with the teacher – perhaps using a daily written diary method.
7. Accept the failure if it is inevitable, and reinforce your child's self-esteem as much as possible.
8. Ask to have your child's teacher changed for the "repeat" year.
9. Transfer your child to another school.
10. Home school your child.
Remember – a child staying back for another year in the same grade should always be a last resort. If the parents and the school work together, failure should be a rare event.
IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO COTNACT DR. SMITH, SHE CAN BE REACHED AT HER EMAIL ADDRESS: JSMITH1313@CFL.RR.COM  OR IN CARE OF THIS NEWSPAPER.