VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Across Hampton Roads, hundreds of students are starting the year right where they left off: in the previous grade.
After a year of mostly virtual learning, 10 On Your Side began collecting data that would show whether the number of kids retained significantly changed.
In Suffolk, Norfolk and Portsmouth, school officials said they would not release student retention data until the Virginia Department of Education certified it.
Hampton, Chesapeake and Newport News’ school systems provided records that showed there was no significant change in student retention this year compared to the average of the three prior school years.
Virginia Beach City Public Schools, however, said that 1,914 students were held back after the 2020-21 school year.
That’s 1.75 times as many as the average of the three prior school years, which hovered around 1,100 students.
“It concerns me any time students aren’t achieving at the level which we would anticipate,” said Dr. Kipp Rogers, Chief Academic Officer of Virginia Beach City Public Schools. “The pandemic year, last year was extremely challenging for all parties involved.”
The decision to hold a student back is not one that’s made lightly, according to Kathleen Slinde, current Virginia Beach Education Association president and longtime elementary school teacher.
“We collect lots and lots of data, we provide lots and lots of services,” Slinde said. “There’s lots of support within our public schools for students who are struggling. […] That’s one of the great strengths of public school, that we have those resources.”
The increase in retained students is lower in elementary school grades, which is in line with Slinde’s training.
“In early childhood in particular, the research just simply shows that retaining a child is not the best way to make progress,” she said.
When the decision is made to hold a student back, Slinde says parents can look at it through the lens of time.
“Your child will benefit from the gift of time. Let’s give them some more time to get these concepts and grow in this and they’ll be stronger as they move forward.”
In high school, some of the students retained may have already jumped up after taking summer courses, according to Rogers, because grade advancement is based on credits earned.
This year’s summer learning program was especially robust, including offering “bridge” courses.
“It addressed some of those skills that may have been unfinished from the previous year to better prepare them for success this school year,” added Rogers.
During the school year, students in grades six through 12 also have 24/7 access to virtual live tutors in core subjects.
With that extra support, Rogers said the increase in retention would “absolutely” be temporary.
“Our kids are stronger than we might think and certainly a lot more resilient,” he said.
Slinde, too, believes the return to in-person learning will quickly push students through any setbacks.
“As all those pieces come back together, they’re going to race ahead,” she said. “They’re going to make progress and they’ll do it probably much faster than we ever thought they would.”