By Debra Collins, Family therapist
I have a granddaughter in the fourth grade. Her parents help her every day with her homework. She can tell the correct answers and does quite well. At school when given a test on the same subjects, she will receive a C, a D or an F. We have talked to the teacher, but all she says is that they will keep her back in the fourth grade next year. We do not know what to do. We have had her tested and all is OK. So where do we go from here? Can you give advice?
I would like to address the issue of retention first. Retention, especially in the higher grades, is usually considered only after a variety of factors have been explored and weighed as either supportive or detrimental to a student's individual needs. Schools consider standardized test scores, behavioral and emotional issues, the results of psycho-educational tests, and overall school performance history; not just how well children do on their individual subject tests.
Your granddaughter's parents may want to have a meeting with the teacher, principal and special education team to determine your granddaughter's needs. The Department of Education in California calls this meeting a Student Success Team (SST) meeting, but many states have a similar procedure of early intervention to determine how best to help students. This would be very important to weigh all the options before retention occurs.
Poor classroom testing is usually considered "test anxiety," which is a form of performance anxiety and needs to be addressed as a separate issue. Test anxiety usually gets reinforced when the child has had a bad test experience and fears that this will happen again. The anxiety caused by repetitive fearful thoughts, and/ or by the physical reactions such as pounding heart, rapid breathing, sweating, shaking and nausea, can be very intense and makes concentration very difficult. A school counselor or child therapist can give your granddaughter tools to help lower and control her anxiety. Tools such as visualization, deep breathing and positive self-talk are useful for a variety of situations, not just testing, and can become a part of good self-care.
Family anxiety naturally increases when you see a loved one struggle. Sometimes in our effort to be helpful, we can inadvertently add more pressure, so collaboration with the counselor can be a wonderful way to manage everyone's stress.
Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.
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