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Parents ponder holding kids back a grade after coronavirus school closings

For Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey, the research doesn’t back up a decision to keep students from moving up to the next grade.

Students walk into Roswell B. Mason Elementary School on the South Side.
Students walk into Roswell B. Mason Elementary School on the South Side.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file photo

Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Illinois education officials have said students still should be promoted to the next grade level despite the unprecedented disruption to the school year caused by the coronavirus.

But what if parents disagree?

Without regular, in-person schooling for 2.2 million students over the last three months of this academic year, parents are searching for answers to limit the long-term impact on their children. Some have even suggested they might voluntarily hold back their own children from moving to the next grade level, in order to make up for any lost instruction time this year.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a friend of President Donald Trump, has given parents in that state the option of holding their children back a year because of the pandemic.

Asked Friday if that was a possibility in Illinois, Pritzker said he hadn’t seen DeSantis’ plan or discussed it with education officials.

“It’s not something that we’ve contemplated right now, given the amount of time that’s left in the school year and the fact that some school districts, many school districts, do have a pretty good e-learning program in place so they can get much of the instruction done,” the governor said.

“But I recognize that there are kids who may not get as much. And therefore, you know, something like that might work. But I’ll go look at what Governor DeSantis has announced.”

Even so, Pritzker and State Supt. of Education Carmen Ayala stressed districts should adjust grading policies to ensure students don’t fail any assignments, classes or grades.

Ayala said it’s unreasonable to expect kids to be fully caught up when in-person instruction resumes, but the goal should be to keep them learning and progressing as much as possible. Any catching up will be done next school year, in their new grade level.

And with remote learning plans in place statewide, many students are receiving some form of education.

Jesse Sharkey, Chicago Teachers Union president
Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey says research finds “a number of negative effects” to a decision to have a student repeat a grade level.
Sun-Times file

For Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey, the science doesn’t support a decision to keep students from moving on to the next grade.

Sharkey said he would advise parents not to hold their kids back, because choosing to do so might do more harm than good.

“I understand where parents are coming from, but I would just caution this: As a trained educator, the research on students repeating grades is that there’s a number of negative effects,” Sharkey said.

“We’re in the early stages of figuring out what some of this will look like, but it’s not just as simple as a student goes through three quarters of the year of school, then loses a quarter and so then, ‘Oh let’s go through that same school year again,’” he said. “It doesn’t always work out to be educationally beneficial given what the research is on repeating grades.”