KCTV5 Investigates: Schools rarely hold back failing students - KCTV5

KCTV5 Investigates: Schools rarely hold back failing students

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An Independence father, who thought he knew what was going to happen when his child brought home a report card with six Fs and a D, was shocked to learn that despite his wishes, school districts rarely hold back failing students.

KCTV5 is hiding the identity of the father in this story in order to protect his child from embarrassment, but is allowing him to go public about how he felt when educators seemingly ignored his wishes and interfered with his parenting.

The father says he and his wife knew their child was struggling with eighth-grade classes but didn't realize how bad it had got until he saw a string of failing second semester grades.

"We were just blindsided when we got the report card," the father said.

Those results forced him to make a tough but necessary decision about his child's future.

"We told our child that they would be held back," the father said. "We sat down and had a talk that you will be held back this year because of your grades."

The educators at Nowlin Middle School had other ideas.

"They said we don't retain and that was the only contact we had with them," the father said. "We couldn't believe it. We could not believe it. It was absolutely insane."

Over the father's objections, school administrators passed his failing child on to the ninth grade. Feeling like the district had ignored his wishes, this concerned father asked KCTV5's Stacey Cameron to investigate.

Cameron set up an interview with Dale Herl, the superintendent of the Independence School District.

"How can you justify passing a student like that along to high school?" Cameron asked

"You have to look at a lot of very different variables for any student that could be potentially retained," Herl said. "And I don't think you could ever look at just one semester and let that be the sole judgment on whether a student is retained or not."

Retained is the word educators' use when they decide to fail or hold back a student. It rarely happens in the Independence School District.

During the 2012-2013 school year, only one student was retained from kindergarten through eighth grade. That is compared to 43 retentions in the Blue Springs School District, 34 in Lee's Summit, 20 in Fort Osage and 17 in Raytown.

According to Herl, most of the students who are retained or held back continue to struggle academically and are less likely to graduate.

"Anytime you look at retention that's a very simple solution to really a very complex problem," Herl said.

So, instead of retaining its failing students, Herl says schools in his district stage an intervention to identify problems and work to fix them.

"It could be everything from summer school, to tutoring before and after school, to different computerized programs that help lead to increased performance in a certain deficiency," Herl said.

Intervention is a practice embraced by school districts all over Missouri and Kansas.

The approach is supported by University of Missouri-Kansas City professor and education expert Etta Hollins.

"Our decisions should be made on what's best to support that child's growth and development, not to just punish that child," Hollins said.

Hollins explained how retention can cause emotional and self-esteem issues in children who get picked on because of being held back.

"But Dr. Hollins," Cameron said, "some people are going to say 'Come on! Life isn't fair and if you're not doing well at work you're not going to get promoted to the next level, you may be fired. Why are we doing this any different at school? Life is tough. You have to sometimes deal with the consequences of poor performance.'"

"I don't think that's a real comparison," Hollins replied. "I think that children have a developmental sequence through which they grow and the adults in the environment are responsible for developing that growth and development."

Is the Independence School District doing that; intervening and overseeing the growth and development of a failing child whose father reached out to KCTV5?

"I'm not going to get into individual students," Herl said.

Citing privacy laws, Herl declined to discuss that student and the poor report card.

According to Hollins, no matter the school's approach or philosophy, parents need to be included in the discussion.

"I think they should be directly involved," Hollins said. "And if they're not directly involved, they should certainly be informed of what is happening with the child and why certain types of action are being taken."

Since KCTV5 interviewed Herl, he spoke with the father in this story over the phone. However, the father says he still doesn't understand what, if anything, is being done to help his child who continues to struggle academically, this time in the ninth grade.

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