Before you agree to have your child repeat a grade….

This question comes up in a lot of different formats. Sometimes the parent wants their child to repeat a grade but the school is not agreeable to the idea. Other times, the school wants to hold the child back and the parent is not in agreement.

And, when a parent is pondering the idea, there certainly is never a shortage of opinions and incorrect advice. So, let’s take a look

Can/Should an IEP Student fail or repeat a grade?

Can an IEP Student fail a grade?

The short answer is yes. An IEP does not guarantee that a child will not fail a grade. Nor is there any wording in IDEA that prohibits a school from failing a child because they have an IEP. So let’s just put that to rest. There is nothing “illegal” about this practice.

However, it’s a huge red flag that there is something going on.

What the data says about Grade Retention.

Pretty much no matter where you look, you’re not going to find any data that says that grade retention is a positive thing for the student. Many studies show that students who are retained are more likely to experience bullying, more likely to drop out in high school and so on.

That being said, there certainly are some families who have experienced success in doing this. While the data leans one way, it’s not absolute or 100%. (In other words, you don’t need to email me and tell me that it worked for you.)

But the data just isn’t there to support this practice as a whole.


Einstein’s definition of insanity is “is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” At least he is the one who is credited with saying it.

My point is, if you hold a child back and that is the only change, nothing is going to change. If the child has learning difficulties or disabilities that go unaddressed, and the second time they experience the grade level it is exactly the same, do not expect progress.

Grade retention is not an intervention.

“But he just needs to mature a bit.”

This sentiment is very common. However, many kids with autism and other developmental disabilities are known to lack age-appropriate social skills and can be immature.

Will the child really catch up socially and emotionally in one year? If he hasn’t, then what? Are you going to hold him back again?

And, as IEP parents, we have to budget our educational years carefully. Would you rather take up one of your years of eligibility now, when he’s 8 or 9? Or how about when he’s 20 or 21 and needs job skills? Age 21 will come at you, regardless of what grades your child repeats.

Do you know what your IEP rights are?
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I want to hold my child back but the school doesn’t.

Read your school district policies on this. Be realistic about what is going to change for your child during that repeated year and what will be different about it. Have the conversation with your child because this can be very hard on them socially and emotionally. In the end, in most cases, it is ultimately the parents’ decision.

However, it is in rare circumstances that it is the appropriate decision.

The school said they’re going to hold him back or fail him this grade.

Ask them to show you the data that this is an effective intervention. Demand that they show you what is going to be different during the repeated year so that your child will be successful.

Re-read your Present Levels section and make sure that every area of need is identified. If not, request more evaluations.

If Present Levels is solid, then something isn’t right. Can it be reasonably expected that your child will do passing work with supports? Then why aren’t they? Where is the disconnect? Ask the team what they use to determine grades when you have an IEP.

Is there a denial of FAPE?

Not always, but if a child has an IEP, and can be expected to do passing work with supports, yet is still failing, you may have a case of denial of FAPE. As I stated above, failing a grade is a huge red flag that something isn’t going right.

As a parent, you need to really engage in this and get the team to fix it. Either they are not addressing the correct learning issue, or the supports and services are not in place to help the child achieve success. Also, your Progress Monitoring on the IEP really needs to be redone, as you should not be told that your child is failing a grade when it is too late to regroup and track a different course.

Somewhere along the line, someone should have told you that your child was not doing well. Not when it has snowballed into failing the entire year!


I find myself recommending this option more and more, and I don’t like that trend. But, sometimes the fastest and easiest way to get to the destination is just to do it yourself. If you have the means to hire a tutor, pay for after school or summer schooling, or some other remedy, consider it.

I have a friend who ended up pulling her child home, learning how to teach OG, and doing it as homeschool. She got her child caught up and restored her child’s confidence and self esteem.

Keep the Child Engaged.

This is going to affect the student more than it is going to affect anyone else. The damage to self esteem, confidence and well being can be extremely detrimental and can take years to repair.

Keep your child involved in all the conversations and even allow them to help your brainstorm solutions. It will help them in many ways, including in their self-advocacy skills.

Also read: 7 Red Flags that your IEP is Garbage.