6. On what basis are children retained in TWI programs? What if a student is only having trouble in one language? How can you be sure that students are retained for academic difficulties and not limited second language proficiency?

This is an area where there is little research and therefore no clear guidelines or agreement about when or why to retain students. Relevant information from mainstream educational settings can be found in English and Spanish on the website of the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP). In addition, anecdotal information from two established, successful programs is provided here as examples of how the decision is made in TWI programs.

At Key Elementary, the belief is that retention should not be an option at any grade level except kindergarten. At that level, most children who are retained have very low skills, often because they have not attended preschool. Compared with their peers, they do not appear ready to handle the academic demands of first grade.

At Nestor Elementary School, teachers who are considering retaining students look at their academic progress (comparing them to other students who speak their native language), their level of maturity, their family’s support for or resistance to retention, their physical size, and their primary language. School personnel meet with parents and the Student Study Team to try to determine if another year in kindergarten or first grade will help the child reach his or her potential. If the consensus is that retention  will not be effective, or if the family does not support it, the teachers will not retain the student.

Nestor Elementary’s 90/10 model presents some challenges in identifying native English speakers who may benefit from retention, as in the primary grades all academic work is done in Spanish, the student’s second language. The school takes into consideration the students’ participation and progress during the English portion of the day, but because that time involves oral language only in the primary grades, it provides a limited amount of information. The school also relies on English Pre-LAS scores as an indicator of a possible need for retention.