Red Shirting and Retention. #HackingEarlyLearning

In the spring every year the conversation comes up among educators, school leaders and families. Do I send my child to school, or keep them back? As an educator you question if a child is ready for the next grade or not. Two years ago I had an opportunity to meet with the Minnesota Commissioner of Education, Brenda Cassellius and the topic came up during a conversation.

When I was a secondary school administrator I thought the hardest thing I would ever do was go through the expulsion process for a child. That was before I was an elementary school principal and walked through the retention process with the family of a kindergarten student.   Jessica Cabeen

I could share research articles on the topic (and will below), the post isn’t to debate the concept-but to share a process to guide the conversations.

  1. What is the motivation? When considering to retain a child in a grade finding out the motivation of the team is critical. Is the child academically behind, or demonstrating challenging behavior? Has the child missed large amounts of school or consistently tardy? Finding out the root causes of concern is critical in order to determine the right course of treatment.
  2. Start the conversation early in the year and repeat often. If the first time a parent hears about concerns is in May-it is way too late. At the Kindergarten Center teachers brought students of concern up in October. These conversations occurred with families, child study teams, and myself. If the concern was attendance we met with parents and looked at supports that could help the child to arrive on time. If there were academic concerns we started to check on hearing/vision and other medical factors that might be impacting learning. Throughout this work parents are critically important in gathering information and finding out from them how you can support success in the school.
  3. It has to be a team decision. Parent involvement is essential in this process. In our district we utilize the Light’s Retention Scale to guide conversations. First we have a meeting in April to discuss the process and share parent resources to review, then we meet as a team in May to review academic progress, attendance data, observation data and student artifacts. As a school leader it is critical to guide this process with transparency and from a mindset of growth and support.
  4. Don’t let anyone use their gut. In many situations we trust educators are making wise decisions that proactively supports students. In the case of grade level retention-it has to be more than a gut feeling. I have participated in incredible meetings where teachers were able to show data and relationships to the class as a whole in a meaningful, constructive way that opened the dialog for concerns and questions.
  5. Document, Document, Document. Regardless of outcome, document the process. In our schools we utilize a folder for student assistance data, paperwork and other relevant data. This goes with the student and provides a record of interventions and supports that have been tried for future teachers to utilize.

While red-shirting is primarily a parent choice-asking similar questions and reviewing academic and social data is also important and offers a bridge to connect with families either this year, or the year to come.

As I stated in the beginning the conversation and decision making surrounding retention is one of the toughest things I have done as a leader. But by using a process and engaging all stakeholders at equal partners in the process it is a decision we make together.

Continue to Dream Big, Live Colorfully and Lead Boldly,



Relevant Resources:

Retention, Social Promotion and Academic Redshirting. Frey 2005.

A Comparison of Students Who Delay Kindergarten Entry and Those Who Are Retained in Grades K-5


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