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School District Plans to ‘Dig Into’ Issue of Retention

Superintendent Lynn McMullin says, “We need to openly discuss what the research shows and make certain our interventions are thorough and on target so kids do succeed at their grade level.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly stated that there's an opening for principal at Race Brook School. The opening is at Peck Place.

In a conversation with Orange Patch, termed the retention of six first graders at the Peck Place Elementary School a surprise.

“It was something that caught me by surprise. I didn’t expect it,” said the superintendent, who assumed her position within the Orange school district this January. “However, it hasn’t deterred me," she added. "I have no doubt in the district’s capacity to resolve it.”

“It’s an anomaly. Even the teachers recognize it as an anomaly,” McMullin said of the number of students who will not progress to the next grade. 

The fact that six of the 58 students in the first grade at are going to be held back came up at the district's Board of Education meeting. Albert deCant, principal of Peck Place, declined to comment on retention at his school.

McMullin said the school district is in the process of compiling information on retention. She also said that the district is in the process of hiring principals for two of the districts’ elementary schools, and that she expected the new hires at the  and Schools to be on board by the first of July.

Then, she said, she and an administrative team consisting of Kay Graves, who serves as director of special education, and Colleen Murray, who has just moved into the position of director for curriculum and instruction, will “dig into this as an administrative team and come up with a protocol.”

She said she would have a recommendation for the BOE with a philosophy and a strong research base by the end of the summer. BOE Chairman Jeanne Consiglio was not immediately available to comment on whether the BOE will raise the retention issue at its June meeting.

“Until we really get a chance to dig into this as an administrative team and come up with a protocol there’s not much we can say or do,” McMullin said.

Retension History

McMullin from Canton.  There, she had served as assistant superintendent of schools for five years.

“In general, there’s been three major ‘studies’ of the studies on retention — one as recently as 2000,” the superintendent observed. “In every research study, the research does not support retention."

“There’s been a lot of language around, ‘You give the student the gift of time,’” she continued. “Those children grow regardless of the time you give,” she said.  “Repeating the curriculum is not going to solve the problem.”

“Research does not support retention,” she repeated.

She said what matters is the degree to which a school system intervenes to address issues such as a child’s skills deficiency, and also that it pays attention to a child’s needs — teaching the child how to use his or her strengths to address any weakness.

She said the parents of the students who have been retained are comfortable with the decision they’ve made. 

“Parents are part of the decision-making process and will continue to be,” she said.

“We need to openly discuss what the research shows and make certain our interventions are thorough and on target so kids do succeed at their grade level.”

Nancy June 05, 2012 at 12:03 PM
Could you please check into the info on this article? Is the principle at Racebrook really leaving?
Concerned Parent June 05, 2012 at 12:16 PM
Yes, please tell us this is a typing error on Patch's part. We were told it was the principals being hired were for Turkey Hill and Peck, not RaceBrook.
Anthony Karge June 05, 2012 at 12:36 PM
It was indeed an error. It's Turkey Hill and Peck Place that are hiring.
Jeanne June 05, 2012 at 05:41 PM
As a retired teacher who taught First Grade for 25 years I believe that no child should be promoted unless he or she has achieved the skills assigned to that level. No child can hope to be successful unless he or she has a sound foundation. There is much to learn in 1st grade in reading, math, English, and social studies alone. ( If a child is immature and young and having some difficulty, the place to retain him is in Kindergarten.) If the material taught in Second Grade or beyond becomes too difficult, the child will become frustrated and unhappy with himself. In later years he may seek attention by other means. If he can not find success in learning, the alternative may not be positive. Yes, it will cost the cities and towns more money to retain these children, but in the end they will be happier and more productive individuals. We owe this to our average child who may "meet some bumps in the road," as we do to our gifted and our special needs children.
Concerned Resident June 12, 2012 at 12:19 PM
Mrs. McMullin is absolutely correct! Research shows retention doesn't work. I am a teacher and very current on research. If we know something doesn't work, why do we continue to do it? Of course there is always the exception to any rule, but too many kids have been retained this year. I hope Orange administrators do look into this problem and help teachers learn better interventions, since research shows that works! I look foward to reading the solutions to this problem.
Concerned Parent June 12, 2012 at 12:23 PM
If a child is not ready for the next grade level, it may not have anything to do with the teacher. If the child is young or is immature, the teacher cannot change those factors. Some children just need more time! Mrs. McMullin might be correct in some cases but definitely not all of them. I am sure that if you look at the birth-dates and genders of the children being retained-most are probably boys with fall birthdays. Should the parents have looked at this before the child started school, maybe. But give these children every chance to succeed. I say Bravo to the teachers and parents who have noted the issues and are doing their best to correct the problems early on!

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