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Failing students

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Title:
Failing students the grade retention experience for seventh graders
Creator:
Campbell, Judy R
Place of Publication:
Denver, CO
Publisher:
University of Colorado Denver
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Language:
English
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xv, 309 leaves : illustrations, forms ; 29 cm

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Grade repetition -- Case studies ( lcsh )
Grade repetition ( fast )
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Case studies. ( fast )
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )
Case studies ( fast )

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Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references.
Thesis:
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree, Doctor of Philosophy, School of Education and Human Development, Administration, Curriculum, and Supervision
Statement of Responsibility:
by Judy R. Campbell.

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|University of Colorado Denver
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|Auraria Library
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
26706686 ( OCLC )
ocm26706686
Classification:
LD1190.E3 1992d .C35 ( lcc )

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Full Text
FAILING STUDENTS: THE GRADE RETENTION EXPERIENCE FOR
SEVENTH GRADERS
by
Judy R. Campbell
B.A., San Francisco State University, 1964
M.Ed., University of Arizona, 1977
A thesis submitted to the
Faculty of the Graduate School of the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
Administration, Curriculum, and Supervision
1992


Copyright 1992 by Judy Roberts Campbell
All Rights Reserved


This thesis for the Doctor of Philosophy
degree by
Judy R. Campbell
has been approved for the
School of
Education
by


Abstract
Campbell, Judy R. (Ph.D., Administration, Curriculum, and Supervision)
Failing Students: The Grade Retention Experience for Seventh Graders
Thesis directed by Assistant Professor Nancy M. Sanders
The purpose of this study was to investigate the practice of grade
retention from the perspective of students who were retained in the
seventh grade. Current literature provides little information from the
students' perspectives concerning the experience of retention at the
junior high school level. The theoretical significance of this study was to
provide an interpretive account of the perspectives of students as they
experienced retention. The practical concern of the study was to make
explicit what was implicit by describing the experiences of retainees in
order to provide the insight which precedes informed decisions by policy
makers and effective practices of educators. For educational policy
makers and practitioners, decisions about policy and practices should be
grounded in knowledge about the private and enduring meanings such
decisions have for students.
Six case studies documented the retention year. Data includes
comprehensive information on students within the context of family and
school. The research design focused on six in-depth, open-ended,
interviews with seventh grade retainees throughout their retention year.
Analysis of the case studies produced the following conclusions:
1. Students experienced five discernible stages during the
retention year. Opportunities for school personnel to engage students in
a successful learning experience were found in the initial three stages.


Stages may be used to evaluate the relative success or failure of a
variety of intervention strategies.
2. The academic effect of the retention experience for students in
this study constituted a repetition of the earlier failure. Grade retention
did not correct problems which existed for students prior to the retention
year. In addition, students perceived repetition of the same curriculum as
stifling.
3. The effect of retention on students in the study was harmful.
Not only did students complete the year feeling that they were "stupid"
and "failures," but they also perceived that there were no adults in the
schools to whom they could go for help about things that mattered most
to them.
The form and content of this abstract are approved. I recommend its
publication.
Signed SmtkAd.
{) Nancy M. Sanders


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
Grateful appreciation is expressed to Nancy Sanders for her work
as the chair of the doctoral committee. She provided sincere
encouragement, inspiration, and direction in the completion of this study.
She continues to be a mentor and a friend.
Thank you to the members of the committee for design assistance,
timely nudges, and a keen interest in the students in the study. Thank
you too for guidance and support, making the defense a pleasure, and
for truly making a difference in the education of many.
A special thank you goes to the students who participated in this
study and gave unselfishly of their time and honestly of their wisdom.
They have enriched my perspective on learning.
Friends and colleagues are sincerely appreciated for their steady
encouragement and thoughtfulness throughout this endeavor. You read
critically, and listened almost endlessly. You were a persistent source of
strength for me.
My deepest appreciation goes to my family. My parents have
inculcated in me a love for life that includes dedication to family, work,
learning and disciplined thinking, as well as an unselfish and sincere
concern for others. My daughters have given their love and
understanding, and shared my goal with me. Thank you.


In Memoriam...
Russell W. Meyers, 1924 -1991
Lance V. Wright, 1948 -1992
who provided a challenging environment
that encouraged academic and
professional development.
vii


CONTENTS
CHAPTER
1. INTRODUCTION...........................................1
Background of the Problem..............................2
Beliefs about Grade Retention.......................4
Effects of Grade Retention..........................5
The Problem ...........................................6
The Purpose of the Study...............................7
Research Questions.....................................9
The Research Design....................................9
Definition of Terms...............................10
Implications of the Study.............................10
Structure of the Dissertation.........................11
2. REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE.................................12
An Overview of Current Perspectives
On Grade Retention....................................13
Comprehensive Reviews of the Grade
Retention Research....................................14
Research on Beliefs about Retention...................17
Retention Studies Specific to Junior High Students....22
Adlerian Perspective..................................28
Summary and Conclusions...............................30
3. THE RESEARCH METHOD....................................34
viii


Characteristics of Qualitative Research,
35
Generalizability.......................................36
Validity...............................................36
Reliability............................................37
Reduction of Data.........................................37
A Description of the Conceptual Framework..............38
Personal Experience of the Researcher as It
Applied to the Study...................................39
The Research Questions.................................41
Permission for the Study...............................42
Criterion-based Selection of Participants..............42
Collection of Data........................................46
Research Procedures.......................................47
Analysis of Data..........................................48
Data Display..............................................49
Summary and Verification of Data..........................50
4. DAVID.....................................................51
David and His Family......................................52
David's Father.........................................52
Davids Mother.........................................53
David's Siblings.......................................53
David's Perception of Himself..........................55
David at School A Chronology of the
Elementary School Years...................................58
David at Pitt Junior High School..........................62
ix


The Retention Decision
64
The Summer Before the Retention Year..................65
The Retention Year.......................................68
The Second Semester of the
Retention Year........................................77
Perceived Retention Effects...........................89
Case Summary and Conclusions.............................92
5. PHIL.....................................................94
Phil and His Family......................................94
Phil's Father.........................................95
Phil's Mother.........................................97
Phils Sibling........................................98
Phil's Perception of Himself.........................100
Phil at School A Chronology of the
Elementary Years........................................101
Phil's First Retention...............................103
Phil at Pitt Junior High School -
The Seventh Grade.......................................104
The Retention Decision...............................106
The Summer Before the Retention Year.................107
The Retention Year......................................108
The Second Semester of the
Retention Year.......................................112
Perceived Retention Effects..........................116
Case Summary and Conclusions............................118
x


6. KIM...................................................122
Kim and Her Family....................................123
Kim's Mother.......................................123
Kim's Stepfather...................................125
Kim's Grandmother..................................125
Kim's Siblings.....................................126
Kim's Perceptions of Herself.......................126
Kim at School A Chronology of the
Elementary School Years...............................130
Kim at Rowlon Junior High School -
The Seventh Grade.....................................133
The Retention Decision.............................137
The Summer Before the Retention Year...............138
The Retention Year.................................139
The Second Semester of the
Retention Year.....................................143
Perceived Retention Effects........................152
Case Summary and Conclusions..........................154
7. EDDIE.................................................157
Eddie and His Family...............................158
Eddies Father.....................................158
Eddie's Mother.....................................159
Eddie's Perception of Himself......................162
Eddie At School A Chronology of the
Elementary School Years...............................167
Eddit at Rowlon Junior High School -
The Seventh Grade.....................................170
x i


The Retention Decision..............................174
The Summer Before the Retention Year...............175
The Retention Year....................................176
The Second Semester of the
Retention Year.....................................180
Perceived Retention Effects........................184
Case Summary and Conclusions..........................186
8. SCOTT.................................................188
Scott and His Family..................................189
Scott's Stepfather.................................189
Scotts Mother.....................................189
Scott's Siblings...................................190
Scott's Perceptionsof Himself......................191
Scott at School A Chronology of the
Elementary School Years...............................192
Scott at Saddler Junior High School -
The Seventh Grade.....................................195
The Retention Decision.............................196
The Summer Before the Retention Year...............197
The Retention Year....................................198
The Second Semester of the
Retention Year.....................................204
Perceived Retention Effects........................212
Case Summary and Conclusions..........................213
9. JR....................................................215
JR and His Family..................................215
xi i


JR's Father.........................................216
JR's Mother.........................................216
JRs Sibling........................................216
JR's Perception of Himself..........................217
JR at School A Chronology of the
Elementary School Years................................218
JR at Saddler Junior High School -
The Seventh Grade......................................223
The Retention Decision..............................226
The Summer Before the Retention Year................226
The Retention Year..................................227
The Second Semester of the
Retention Year......................................233
Perceived Retention Effects.........................238
Case Summary and Conclusions...........................239
10. THE RETENTION EXPERIENCE:
ANALYSIS AND FINDINGS ACROSS STUDENTS...........241
Administrative Perspectives on
Retention in Auburne County............................242
The Stages of the Grade Retention Experience...........244
Stage One: Students Confirm the
Reasons for Being Retained..........................244
Stage Two: Students Dread the
Retention Year......................................244
Stage Three: Students Accept Retention..............245
Stage Four: Students Express Their
Disillusionment with the Rhetoric and the
Reality of Retention................................245
xi i i


Stage Five: Students Reject
the Educational System............................246
Findings Regarding Academic Performance..............251
Interventions During the Retention Year...........251
Student Views on Curricula and Teachers...........254
Effects of Retention on Students Personally..........258
Student Life Lines................................259
Students' Attitudes Toward Themselves.............260
The Chronologies of School Experience................262
Themes from Cumulative Records....................262
Themes from Students' School Histories............264
A Summary of Students' Views on
Grade Retention......................................265
Summary of the Grade Retention Experience............268
Conclusions..........................................269
11. SUMMARY OF THE FINDINGS, IMPLICATIONS
AND RECOMMENDATIONS..................................273
Research Questions and Design........................273
The Findings:
The Grade Retention Experience.......................274
Five Stages of the Grade Retention Experience.....275
Implications of the Findings for the
Literature on Retention..............................276
Current Perspectives..............................277
Comprehensive Reviews.............................278
Attitudes and Beliefs.............................278
xiv


Grade Retention and Junior High
School Students.....................................280
Implications for the Use of the
Theoretical Framework..................................283
Impllications for Future Research......................285
Implications for Educational Policy Makers
and Practitioners......................................286
Policy..............................................286
Educational Practices...............................287
Recommendations for Policymakers and
Educational Practitioners..............................288
Turning Points......................................289
REFERENCES................................................291
APPENDICES................................................299
A. District Policy on Retention............................299
B. Project Description.....................................300
C. Consent Form............................................301
D. Contact Summary Form....................................303
E. Pattern Coding..........................................304
F. Data Accounting Sheet...................................305
G. Interview Schedule......................................306
H. School Chronologies for Students
Repeating Seventh Grade.................................308
xv


CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION
More than one million youngsters each year repeat a grade in the
public elementary and junior high schools (Berliner, 1986; Frymier, 1989)
at an annual cost to the taxpayers of between five and eight billion
dollars (Smith & Shepard, 1987). The long term effects of grade
retention on the students who are held back are "quite adverse" (Safer,
1986, p. 503). An examination of studies on the relationship between
retention and dropouts indicates that while "the magnitude of the effect [of
grade retention on dropping out of school] varies from one school system
to the next," holding students back significantly increases the risk of
dropping out of school (Grissom & Shepard, 1989, p. 60). According to
Byrnes and Yamamoto, the effects of retention are "dubious... negative,
and confusing" (1985, p. 214).
For educational practitioners there seems to be a contradiction
between retention policies that recommend retention and the research
about the effects of such a practice. Policy initiatives in the area of
retention are responses to the demand for rigorous promotional
standards. The impetus for a closer look at the practice of grade
retention is provided by educational researchers who challenge the
efficacy of retention.


Retention is an issue that has significant consequences for society
and its schools collectively and for individual students. This study
addresses two concerns, one practical and the other theoretical Of great
practical concern on a policy level is the potential meaning students
attach to the retention experience that will inform educators and policy
makers about discrepancies between current retention policies and the
effects on individual students. From a theoretical perspective it is
possible to explain discrepancies between what policy makers and
educators intend to accomplish with grade retention and actual effects
according to researchers using a subjective frame of reference.
Psychological literature provides that reference in literature which
suggests that individuals do not experience reality directly, but rather,
what happens to them is filtered through a subjective frame of reference.
What students experience in retention, and what policy makers intend for
them to experience, may not correspond.
Background of the Problem
Retention has been an enduring feature of public education in the
United States. During the first quarter of the twentieth century, promotion
from grade to grade was based strictly upon mastery of standardized and
uniform grade level curriculum within a traditional structure of education.
Students who did not master material to the satisfaction of their teachers
as demonstrated by failing grades were "held back" in order to repeat the
same material. Most students who were not promoted simply dropped
out of school when they were old enough to work (Allen, 1989).
Retention rates were justified in the rhetoric of educators who espoused
2


strict promotional standards reflecting a belief in "high standards and
hence good schools" (Tyack,1974t p. 201).
Early twentieth century critics of traditional education, notably
Edward T. Thorndike and Leonard Ayres (cited in Tyack, 1974, p. 200),
called public attention to high rates of "retardation" and "elimination,"
referring respectively to students who were older than their classmates,
repeating the same grade, and students who were dropping out of school
(Tyack, 1974, p. 199). These statistics were interpreted as symptoms of a
pervasive malaise in education. Ayres wrote that in addition to the
monetary and human resource costs of grade retention, students who
dropped out or were retained were "thoroughly trained in failure" (1909,
p. 228).
A more efficient educational structure, it was argued, would not fail
its students. Instead, it would "measure and account for every child,
providing different opportunities, depending on his or her needs" (Tyack,
1974, p. 190). Schools were criticized for teaching "an abstract
curriculum" and promoting students on the basis of some "literary test"
thus failing the "motor minded" students (Tyack, 1974, p. 190). Educators
were encouraged to individualize instruction. To do that, educators often
grouped students according to ability and provided them with a
differentiated curriculum. Each grade level was regarded as a "level of
experience" (Tyack, 1987, p. 38) and students were promoted from year
to year rather than holding them at a particular grade level until they had
mastered a specified curriculum. Strict academic standards for
promotion gave way to social promotions.
3


In 1974, when national studies revealed a decline in student
achievement nationwide, the Greensville County, Virginia school board
became the first in the United States to officially abolish social promotion
and require students to demonstrate, once again, mastery of specified
curriculum in order to be promoted to the next grade level (Thompson,
1979). With the growing criticism of public education, schools began a
nationwide shift toward promotional policies promising an overall
increase in school performance. These policy shifts were accompanied
by a rise in the number of students retained (Shepard & Smith, 1989).
Beliefs about Grade Retention
By retaining students, educators, parents, and policy makers
believe that they are responding to a public mandate in the pursuit of
excellence in education. Faced with a myriad of differences among
students in public schools, educators seem to believe that grade
retention or a strict promotional policy provides accountability when
schools do not pass students who are not successful. An assumption
underlying this belief is that academic performance is enhanced because
students are motivated to do better with the possibility of failure. Further,
it is assumed that when students are retained they are allowed to repeat
material at the same grade level and are protected from the demands of
a rigorous curriculum for which they are ill-prepared. Repeating a grade
is assumed to give youngsters time to catch up on subjects that they have
failed as well as added time to mature (McNergney & Haberman, 1989).
Such assumptions can be seen to reflect the notion that retention is good
for students (Shepard & Smith, 1989).
4


Educators also believe that retention makes their classes more
homogeneous and spares them additional preparation for students
whose presence widens the range of abilities in their classes
(McNergney & Haberman, 1989). Research conducted with school
administrators, teachers, and parents affirms adult beliefs that students
should be retained (Byrnes & Yamamoto, 1986); that retention "works"
(Frymier, 1989, p. 32); and that promotional standards ought to be
rigorous (Smith & Shepard, 1987).
Effects of Grade Retention
The bulk of the retention research focuses on the elementary level,
yet at the junior high school level grade retention rates "zoom" (Byrnes &
Yamamoto, 1985, p. 209). Retention is a concern throughout the middle
school or junior high school years especially as students near the legal
age to drop out of school (Johnston & Markle, 1986). Research supports
retention as a "strong" predictor of dropping out (Doss cited in Overman,
1986, p. 611).
A number of researchers have conducted reviews of retention
research including Holmes and Matthews who completed a meta-
analysis in 1984 which was updated by Holmes in 1989. Holmes' latest
publication integrated the data from 63 studies conducted at the
elementary and junior high school levels. The actual retention of
students included in the research occurred in grades one through six.
Holmes concluded that at least 85 per cent of the existing studies
challenge the effectiveness of retention as a solution to poor
performance in school.
5


Yamamoto, Soliman, Parsons, and Davies [sic] (1987) asked
school children to rank stress-producing life events. Almost 2000
children in grades three through nine, when given a list of stress-
producing life events, placed retention third following losing a parent"
and "going blind" (p. 856). These authors concluded that common
perceptions among children in terms of their life experiences lend
credibility to "inquiry into the world" of the child which "should give adults
a pause" (p. 863).
The Problem
Educational researchers have consistently challenged the efficacy
of retention in terms of its effects on students. Studies have not
demonstrated academic or personal benefit to students (Holmes, 1989).
Studies have consistently correlated retention with the school dropout
problem (Grissom & Shepard, 1989; Jackson, 1975; Shepard & Smith,
1989). Yet educators, parents, and policy makers continue to believe
that students must be held to a standard of performance. Therefore,
when students do not meet that standard, retention is the prepotent
response (Thompson, 1979).
The debate between educational researchers and educational
practitioners highlights an historical tension between the policies and the
practice. The debate suggests that educational researchers have not
explained grade retention.
6


The Purpose of the Study
Researchers as well as educational practitioners know little about
grade retention from the student point of view, especially at the junior
high school level. It is the intent of this research to recast the debate
between researchers and educational practitioners with the perspectives
and attitudes of students who are experiencing retention to highlight the
topic.
It is assumed that what students have to say about the retention
experience will inform educational policy. In this study the meaning of
the retention experience will be cast at three levels, the factual, the
common, and the intersubjective (Taylor, 1982). The assumption that
student commentary regarding retention will inform educational policy
has as its focus the task of understanding meanings of retention as
constructed by students. In Encouraging Children to Learn (1963)
Dinkmeyer and Dreikurs say,
It may suffice here to point out that the result of any corrective act
depends less on what the educator does than on how the child
perceives and responds to it. The ability to be sensitive to the
child's perception is one of the premises that are seldom met. (p.
4)
A demand for understanding with sensitivity suggests that this
study be conducted within a theoretical framework which recognizes and
explains the nature of individual differences within a social context.
There are multiple perspectives which inform the study of human
behavior. The perspective deemed most appropriate to the purpose of
this study is one originating with Alfred Adler, that of Adlerian psychology.
Adlerian psychology is a significant contributor to psychologies
7


articulated in the 1980s as it was a forerunner of subjective psychologies,
especially the cognitive and social-psychological perspectives
underlying critical theory (Adler, 1970; Dreikurs, 1967; Dowd & Kelly,
1980; Dinkmeyer & Dinkmeyer, 1989).
Adlerian theory depicts people as active and responsible, striving
for social meaning (Dinkmeyer & Dreikurs, 1963). Further, it relies on the
assertion that people desire to master their situations, and to behave in a
manner that accomplishes the purpose of mastery (Ansbacher &
Ansbacher, 1964). One of the most significant contributions of Adlerian
psychologists for educators is the notion that students do not experience
external reality directly. Rather, according to Eckstein, Baruth and
Mahrer, (1975) experiences of students are filtered through a private
logic.
This theoretical construct has the potential to explain how students
mediate life experiences and the specific experience of retention, an
experience which is described by quantitative researchers as,
"immediately traumatic" yet widely and "perniciously" imposed by adults
(House, 1990, p. 12). For educators and policy makers, decisions about
educational practices and procedures should be grounded in knowledge
about the private and enduring meanings such decisions have for
students.
This study investigates the issue of grade retention at the junior
high school level by describing the retention experience within a
meaningful framework as constructed by students who have been
retained in the seventh grade. The study focuses not on outcomes or
8


products of retention which can be measured quantitatively but on the
actual nature of the retention experience.
Research Questions
The following questions will guide this study:
1. What is the experience of being retained from the
perspective of students who are retained?
2. How do students' retention experiences correspond with
current literature and research findings about grade
retention?
3. How do students' perceptions about the experience
of being retained enlighten the debate about this
important policy issue for educators and policy makers?
The Research Design
This study has been conceptualized as an investigation of the
experience of being retained as described by students who are repeating
the same grade in school. It assumes that data useful for a thorough
understanding of the retention experience are rendered using naturalistic
methods and descriptions. The data will draw from the personal
experiences and perspectives of seventh graders who are experiencing
retention as well as a review of their cumulative school records. In order
to more fully understand the retention experience for the students who
represent three junior high schools, administrators and counselors in
each of the schools will be interviewed to express district policy
regarding retention and the process utilized in making retention
decisions in each school.
9


While the impact of some [childhood experiences] may be
apparent to adults, the potential effects of others may remain
hidden, unsuspected, or ignored (e.g. academic retainment)...
Closer inquiry ... is clearly indicated. (Yamamoto et al., 1987, p.
863)
The inquiry relies on a series of individual, open-ended interviews
throughout the grade retention year. Students will be asked to reflect
upon themselves, their families, their school years, and the grade
retention experience. Interview data will be aggregated and analyzed
according to methods suggested by Miles and Huberman, 1984.
Definition of Terms
Retention refers to the repetition of a full year of school in the
same grade level.
Retainee refers to a student who is in the process of being
retained and is repeating the same grade.
Social promotion refers to the practice of placing a student in the
next grade level at the end of a school year regardless of
academic achievement.
Private logic refers to one's subjective perception of the
environment.
Implications of the Study
This study will explore the complexities and the contradictions of
the grade retention issue in order to provide a deeper understanding of
the retention experience and encourage incisive thinking about its
potential use. The goal of such reflection is responsible decision making
among educational practitioners (Page & Valli, 1990). The approach
taken here assumes that retention is more complex than traditional
research measures have indicated and that what retained students have
10


to say about retention will help educators obtain a deeper understanding
and appreciation of the experience of retention "as seen from the inside"
(Yamamoto et al., 1987, p. 861).
Structure of the Thesis
Chapter 1 of this thesis introduces the problem; chapter 2 presents
a review of the literature related to retention, particularly junior high
school retention; and chapter 3 describes the selected research design.
In chapters 4 through 9 the findings are presented and analyzed as six
comprehensive case studies, chapter 10 presents the analysis across
cases as a response to the first research question. A summary of the
findings and the implications of the findings with recommendations for
school policy makers and practitioners is found in chapter 11.


CHAPTER 2
REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
Whereas retention used to be thought of as education's strongest
medicine hard to swallow but ultimately healing many
educators now consider it more poison than cure. And they point
to a growing body of research to support that claim. Natale, 1991.
Grade retention has received a great deal of attention in recent
years. The literature on grade retention is both rhetorical and research
based. Consistent with the national trend to scrutinize education and
educational practices, concern about grade retention is marked. A
substantial amount of educational research measures the outcomes of
grade retentions occurring during the primary grade school years when
adult interest in retention is keen. Very little research deals with retention
at the seventh grade level, precisely when a sharp increase in the
number of retentions occurs (Johnston & Markle, 1986; Byrnes &
Yamamoto, 1985).
This review covers the following areas: current perspectives
regarding grade retention; comprehensive reviews of the research on
grade retention; research dealing with the attitudes and beliefs of
students, administrators, teachers, and parents around the issues of
grade retention; and research about grade retention which has as its
focus junior high school students. Finally, the review presents the
theoretical perspective which provides an investigative and
organizational framework for the meanings that students attach to their
experience as retainees.


An Overview of Current Perspectives on Grade Retention
House (1989) estimates that "from one-quarter to one-third of all
American students are retained at one time or another" and says that
retention is analogous to blood letting (p. 209). Featherstone, in The
Education Letter (1986), asks rhetorically whether repeating a grade is
helpful to students. The publication summarizes the most recent reviews
of the research literature, saying, "not one of the fourteen most recent
reviews of the research literature have endorsed retention, and many
have condemned it" (p. 1).
In NEA Today. McNergney & Haberman (1989) refute popular
beliefs about the supposed benefits of retention. They conlude with the
common rejoinder of those who have read general findings of the
research, that retention is a temporary solution, "very likely with long term
effects opposite those desired (p. 32).
Berliner and Casanova in Instructor magazine (1986) summarize
the results of Holmes' 1984 retention research for educational
practitioners. Berliner states that in the area of reading achievement,
students who had been retained ranked 18 percentiles lower in
performance after the retention year (p. 15). In the same issue of the
Instructor, pertinent questions about retention are asked and answered.
Retention is summarized as "superfluous" (Casanova, p. 14).
The CSSP Newsletter (1989) summarizes retention research for
school psychologists who are frequently consulted on elementary school
retention decisions. The article cites data supporting the increased
likelihood of retainees dropping out and includes a helpful though not
13


validated decision-making model for retention decisions. Often
contradictory options are suggested, such as, "Do not retain, period,"
followed by, "Retain early rather than late in school" and, "Consider
placing a retained child with the same teacher..." (Canter, 1986, p.3).
In the 1985 issue of Research Roundup (published by the National
Association of Elementary School Principals), Lindelow outlines the
retention debate and predicts that the debate will continue as long as the
graded educational structure remains in the schools. Lindelow suggests
that the solution to low achievement is the expansion of special
education programs.
Overman, in the Phi Delta Kappan (1986), cites existing research
and concludes that "the evidence suggests that achievement-based
promotion does not deal effectively with the problem of low achievement"
(p. 610). Overman, like Lindelow, articulates alternatives to retention
including the following: providing varied teaching strategies, matching
teaching and learning styles, making available remedial instruction for
unmastered skills, utilizing partial promotion, assigning students to
summer school, and considering students for special education.
Comprehensive Reviews of the Grade Retention Research
A systematic review of the research on the effects of grade
retention was conducted by Jackson in 1975. He selected 44 reports of
original research for inclusion in the review. In a synthesis of these
reports, Jackson delineated four major tasks: (1) to categorize the
reports according to design; (2) to examine the designs for bias; (3) to
separate from the rest those designs that appeared to be reasonably bias
14


free so that contextual variables could be analyzed separately in terms of
their effect on retention; and (4) to look for patterns of results within and
between variables. From the 44 studies, Jackson concludes that there is
no valid evidence that retention is a viable alternative to improve school
performance. In general, Jackson concludes that the research that has
been done is inappropriate and inconclusive.
Thus, those educators who retain pupils in a grade do so without
valid research evidence to indicate that such treatment will provide
greater benefits to students with academic or adjustment
difficulties than will promotion to the next grade. (Jackson, 1975,
p. 627)
The most recent review of the retention research was done by
Holmes in 1989. This review updated the work Holmes and Matthews
conducted in 1984. Holmes' later search in 1989 produced 850 potential
studies concerning retention from which he selected 63 studies for
inclusion in a meta-analysis. Twenty of these studies also appear in
Jackson's 1975 review. Holmes delineated the criteria for inclusion in
his meta-analysis as follows: studies that present the original research of
the effects on students in kindergarten, elementary, or junior high school;
studies that contain sufficient data, including the means and standard
deviations to calculate an effect size (ES), defined as the difference
between the mean of the retained group and the mean of the promoted
(control) group; and the studies that describe an identifiable comparison
group.
Holmes calculated an average effect size by pooling original data
from qualifying research. On the basis of this calculation, he concludes
that non-promoted students score .26 standard deviation units lower on
measures of outcome when their scores are compared to promoted
15


students (p. 19). Further, while retention is intended to repair basic skills,
retained students score .31 standard deviation units lower on the
achievement measures when compared to promoted students (p. 20).
The same results were analyzed more closely to ascertain whether or not
the grade level of the retention had an effect on achievement. In grades
five through seven, students who repeated a grade scored .37 standard
deviation units behind students who were promoted, demonstrating an
even larger effect size on all measures for students retained in these
grades (p. 20).
In Holmes' and Matthews' 1984 report, those studies that included
subjects matched according to IQ and/or achievement scores were
analyzed separately. This analysis established a grand mean effect size
of -.38 standard deviation units, similar to -.34 standard deviation units
obtained in the complete meta-analysis (p. 225). In Holmes 1989
update, a mean effect size of -.30 standard deviation units was calculated
for students matched according to achievement test scores prior to
retention (p. 26).
Holmes (1989) also conducted a meta-analysis on those studies
which addressed the personal adjustment of retained students. The
mean effect size, calculated from results which weighted each study
equally, was .21 (p. 22). Self-concept scores of retained students
measured a mean effect size of -.13 (p. 23) with similar results obtained
on measures of attitude toward school. The effect size of attendance was
calculated at negative .18 to show a tendency for retained students to be
absent more often than non-retained students (p. 23).
16


According to Holmes' (1989) meta-analysis, fifty-four of the sixty-
three total studies substantiated the harmful effects of retention. Nine of
the sixty-three studies showed beneficial effects of retention. The
majority of the studies supporting retention were conducted in the 1980s.
Analysis of the characteristics of the samples in the studies which
supported retention indicated that the retained students were, "ironically
an unusually able" group of students. They were also given intensive
remediation and compared to a promoted group without equivalent
remediation (p. 28).
Holmes summarizes the program characteristics in the studies
which support retention.
Potential failures were identified early.
A different curriculum was available to retained students rather
than putting them through the same curriculum.
Retained students were placed in classrooms with a low
student-teacher ratio.
Retentions were partial in the sense that retained students
were mainstreamed with students their own age part of each
school day.
Holmes concluded that there are significant harmful effects of grade
retention when these characteristics are not present, which raise
questions about the overall effectiveness of retention practices.
Research on Beliefs about Retention
Several studies focus on how students, educators, and parents
view retention. Byrnes and Yamamoto (1985) attempt to clarify how
retention in the elementary grades is viewed by students. They
conducted personal, structured interviews with a total of 152 students.
Half of the students were repeating in grades one, three, or six at the time
17


of the study. Retained students reported negative feelings about their
experience. The children reported that their parents had equally
negative feelings. Some of the children did say that their parents did not
care that they had been retained. Other children reported that their
parents punished them for being retained.
Byrnes and Yamamoto (1985) asked how youngsters had been
informed of the retention. Most answered that the report card indicated
the same grade, while others said their parents told them. Still others
reported receiving the news from a sibling, the principal, or from the list of
names on the door at the beginning of the next year. When youngsters
were asked why they thought they had been retained, they gave reasons
such as, low grades, socializing too much or inappropriately, missing
school, not listening, or not trying. Some students indicated that they had
not gotten along with the teacher, and one said that poor reading skills
had kept him back (p. 211).
Byrnes and Yamamoto (1985) found that when students were
asked if they thought that retention was a good idea, most agreed with
the practice, but not for them! Youngsters reported being teased,
punished, and separated from their friends. They were embarrassed at
being held back and did not like doing the same work. When asked if
there was anything good about retention, youngsters reported making
new friends, learning more, and having learned a lesson.
In the same study Byrnes and Yamamoto (1985) interviewed thirty-
four teachers who relayed a generally worrisome feeling about having
retained students, preferring to distance themselves from the actual
18


retention conversations. Teachers instead allowed parents to discuss
the retention with their youngsters. According to the teachers who did
discuss retention with their students, almost all the students reportedly
said nothing in reply to the news that they would be retained.
The manner in which teachers handled students during the
retention year varied. Less than half reported giving special attention to
retained students, either by giving them extra duties in the classroom,
encouragement, or harder work. One teacher automatically began the
year with special educational assessments of retainees conducted by the
district's special services department (Byrnes & Yamamoto, 1985).
A second study conducted to determine adult views on retention
was published by Byrnes and Yamamoto in 1986. Two thousand
parents, 200 teachers, and 45 principals received survey questionnaires
in which they were to respond to the following items:
Children should (fill in the blank) be retained if they do not meet
the requirements of the grade.
Possible answers included: Never
Rarely
Occasionally
Usually
Always
Reasons for retention could be checked, including the following
choices: Chronic non-attendance
Parent request
Emotional immaturity
Academic failure not related to skill
Lack of basic skills
Participants were also asked to respond to a checklist of preferred
alternatives to retention. The results, reported in percentiles, indicated
that 59 percent of the parents, 65 percent of the teachers, and 74 percent
19


of the principals felt that children should "Usually" or "Always" be retained
(p. 16). Low and high income parents differed significantly on their
expressed reasons for retention, with high income parents responding
that retentions should occur when there is a parent request, low
achievement, emotional immaturity, or a lack of basic skills. The survey
revealed that more retentions occurred in families which were
characterized by low income, more school-aged children, Spanish as the
primary language, and less school involvement.
Byrnes and Yamamoto (1986) conclude that academic ability is
only one reason for retention and that very little agreement exists from
respondents to suggest any other "appropriate" reason for retention (p.
18). According to Byrnes and Yamamoto, parents were even "less
supportive" of reasons for retention such as student "attitude, work habits,
attendance, conduct and maturity" (p. 18).
Shepard and Smith (1988) conducted a study on teacher attitudes
and beliefs about retention and the "intended solutions that have
compounded the problem" of poor academic performance (p. 137). In an
effort to examine the effects of increased pressure for youngsters to
perform at the kindergarten level, these authors conclude that teachers
are defensive about their demands on students, describing subtle, yet
consistent parental expectations for high performance. The authors
express concern for some educators' seeming inability to resist the subtle
pressure of expectation at the kindergarten level because, "they have no
choice" (p. 143) as well as their "narrow, linear conceptions" about
learning (p. 137).
20


A study dealing with the delayed affective responses of retainees
to the retention experience was available in an unpublished doctoral
dissertation by Phillips (1983). Four years after retention, she discovered
a significant difference between retained and promoted students on a
five-point questionnaire designed to measure attitudes toward school
and retention policies, with retainees scoring more positively than
promoted students. Interviews with twenty-six students from both groups
were conducted during the fourth year of the study. All students in the
study, whether they were retained or promoted, recalled initial feelings of,
"anger, hatred, amazement, embarrassment [and]... relief" (p. 76) when
they first heard about the possibility of being retained. Retainees
recalled feeling many of the same negative emotions when the final
retention decision was made adding a desire to make trouble and feeling
depressed or ill. Some retainees reported feeling relieved of their
struggle to "keep up" (p. 77). Retainees who were still in school (had not
dropped out) also recalled feeling defensive in the first few months of
their retention, yet more capable and better about themselves as they
proceeded through the retention year. In answer to questions about
retention as policy, retainees agreed that some students need more time
to learn, and that things that are "worthwhile" are "earned" (p. 79).
Non-retainees felt relieved at being promoted, though some
resented the struggle they had experienced in trying to achieve passing
grades. They expressed a feeling that teachers did not care about their
potential failure (Phillips, 1983). Non-retainees also remembered feeling
nonchalant the following year. Many non-retainees saw retention as a
21


"harmful" (p. 79) policy. However, some continued to view retention as a
means of receiving the help that was otherwise unavailable.
In an international study, sources of stress were assessed in
elementary school age children (Yamamoto et at., 1987). These children
rank ordered "academic retainment" (p. 857) third from a list of stress-
producing life events behind losing a parent and going blind. In a
previous study, conducted by Yamamoto and Felsenthal (1982), adult
responses to what they thought caused stress for children did not
correlate with the youngsters' responses. Yamamoto et al. concluded
that "adult judgements had been based more upon a prevalent set of
normative expectations, or a sort of folklore, than upon accurate
assessments of children's perceptions and attitudes" (1987, p. 856).
Retention Studies Specific to Junior High Students
Most of the research on grade retention applies to elementary age
students. When Purkerson and Whitfield (1981) summarized research
findings on grade retention with middle school age youngsters they
reportedly could find no grade retention studies which had been
conducted with middle school or junior high school age students. They
located studies which were "peripheral" to junior high and middle school
age students in the sense that research was conducted with junior high
school age students who were retained at the elementary level (p. 2).
One such study, peripheral to junior high school age students was
conducted by Anfinson (1941). He compared certain personality traits of
two matched groups of students in four junior high schools in Minnesota.
The first group contained students who had been promoted regularly in
22


school. The second group contained students who had been retained
one or more semesters prior to the study usually in the first grade.
Students were classified according to intelligence, socio-economic
status, and achievement. Retained students were then matched and
paired with promoted students on the basis of attendance, chronological
age, sex, intelligence, and socio-economic status (SES). The Symonds-
Block Student Questionnaire and the Bell School Inventory were
administered to provide an objective measure of students' personal and
interpersonal adjustment and describe quantitatively student attitudes
toward school.
Results of Anfinson's study indicated no significant difference
between paired students in social and personal adjustment, however
promoted students were judged to be better adjusted in general. A
section analysis revealed that promoted students ranked higher in their
adjustment to administrators, teachers, and personal affairs. Retained
students ranked higher in their adjustment to social life in the school,
other pupils and their families. Overall, the study questioned statements
that grade retention is "extremely destructive" or does "irreparable
damage" to students' personalities (p. 513). Anfinson explains, "It is quite
possible for a repeater to resolve a difficulty such as [retention] if his total
adjustment to life is good" (p. 513).
Another study with junior high school age students, also
peripheral in terms of the actual retention year, was done by Kamii and
Weikart in Michigan during 1959-1960. They compared achievement
and intelligence of seventh graders who had been retained once in
elementary school with seventh graders who had never been retained.
23


The differences in achievement levels and IQ scores for retained
students were significantly lower than those of non-retained students.
Retained students achieved a mean score almost two years below the
scores of promoted students in both reading and arithmetic. Intelligence
scores revealed averages of 94 and 112.6 for retained and promoted
students respectively (1963, p. 454).
Further, Kamii and Weikart (1963) found that retained students
consistently earned lower grades than non-retained students in the
seventh grade. However, marks of D and F were not earned exclusively
by the retained group, and C's were evenly distributed between the
groups. The relationship among student marks, retention, and
intelligence gives conflicting results. Kamii and Weikart questioned
whether achievement tests could explain the poor grades. They matched
students according to ability in reading and found that retained students
received lower marks than their promoted peers.
McAfee (1981) investigated the impact of a promotion policy on
students in grades one through nine in one school system and evaluated
data from that district to assess the relative value of the policy. McAfee
assumed that the standardized tests used to assess the effectiveness or
ineffectiveness of retention in terms of academic achievement lacked age
and grade norms and were therefore inappropriate measures. He
proposed what he termed a Model A statistical design to evaluate the
progress of students with respect to both age and grade norms. He
defined retention as effective if students' achievement gains at the end of
the retained year were equal to the gains of students who were members
of the retainee's former peer group, already promoted.
24


McAfee (1981) administered the SRA Assessment Survey as a
pretest and post-test in April, 1978, and April, 1979, with all retained
students in the district as subjects. McAfee concluded that retention had
a statistically significant effect for elementary students but not for junior
high school students even though retained seventh grade students
showed a decline in performance from the pretest to the post-test.
Safer (1986) inspected cumulative records of 200 students to
establish the correlates and outcomes of grade retention across different
grade levels. He concluded that elementary school school retentions
were followed by improved behavior and better academic performance.
However, major correlates of grade retention at the junior high school
level included persistent misconduct in the classroom, multiple
suspensions, and excessive absenteeism one year after a non-
promotion.
Safer (1986) concluded that prior suspensions and previous
retentions were significantly associated with junior high school
retentions. Only one per cent of the junior high school students who had
never experienced suspension had been retained, while 78 per cent of
the students who experienced multiple suspensions had been retained,
and 63 per cent of the students retained in the junior high school had
been retained previously in the elementary school (p. 501). Low
academic achievement was not significantly associated with the junior
high school grade retention, though 47 percent of the retainees received
failing grades in two or more subjects following a retention (p. 502).
According to Safer, there was no significance for junior high school
25


retention when correlated with measures of IQ, parent level of education,
or hyperactivity.
There are five unpublished doctoral dissertations which have as
their focus grade retention at the junior high school level. One study
describes policy, practices, and characteristics of the students who
repeated a grade in Guam (Sablan, 1988). Sablan interviewed
principals and counselors, distributed a survey to counselors, and
reviewed the cumulative records of retained students. Sablan found that
administrators in Guam considered the use of retention as positive for
some students. They stated that the primary reason to retain was non-
attendance. Earned grades were considered heavily in making the final
retention decisions. Sablan found only "moderate interest shown in
policy revision" (p. 96) and a strong belief that the needs of teachers, as
well as students and parents, needed to be considered prior to policy
revision. Counselor surveys indicated that counselors believed that
students benefitted from an additional year in the same grade at the
junior high school. Yet school records revealed that there was only
"weak supporting data" (p. 98) to reinforce the counselor beliefs.
Sablan (1988) also interviewed six students briefly "because
[interviews] were independent of the students reading and writing
abilities" and, "facilitated observation of the children" (p. 31). From these
interviews, Sablan concluded that students were "ashamed" (p. 97) of
their failure, and that grade retention had been "disruptive" (p. 97) to
them socially.
Another unpublished dissertation was conducted by LeDantec
(1983) to document the relative effectiveness of retention or social
26


promotion at the junior high school level. Through the random selection
and assignment of eighty students from junior highs which used either
retention or social promotion, LeDantec formed retained and social
promotion groups. He then investigated the effects of retention at the
junior high school level by comparing standardized achievement test
scores for the two groups. He concluded that there was no significant
difference between the two groups on standardized test scores one year
after the interventions.
Cromer (1982) and Phillips (1983) sought to compare social
promotion and retention in an effort to discover which was the preferred
intervention for poor performing students. Students were divided into two
groups, those who were retained and those who experienced a social
promotion. Cromer compared students' standardized achievement test
scores and Phillips compared their grades. Both researchers concluded ,
that students who were retained performed better than students who
were socially promoted.
Cromer's (1982) data indicated that retained eighth graders
produced significantly better test scores than matched socially promoted
peers. Phillips (1983) found that retained students received better
grades the second year in the same grade. In Phillip's study, students
were observed for four years during which better grades persisted each
of those years. Socially promoted students' grades also increased, but
there was a significant difference between the two groups with retained
students receiving higher grade point averages. However, the dropout
rate for students in Phillips sample was large enough by the fourth year
of the study to invalidate the final years' results.
27


In an unpublished dissertation by Hannel (1985) rates of retention
for minority seventh graders in Texas were correlated with levels of
achievement, ethnic membership, gender, district instructional
expenditures, the principals' attitudes toward the use of retention, and the
principals' philosophies regarding the responsibility for learning. In
addition to ascertaining that schools with higher percentages of
minorities retained a higher number of students, Hannel also found that
schools with higher achieving students retained fewer students. The
amount of money spent on instructional activities did not correlate with
the number of students retained. In terms of beliefs and attitudes about
retention Hannel found that schools with principals who believed in the
use of retention as an intervention retained more students. However,
whether or not the school's principal believed that learning was the
responsibility of the school was not generally related to the retention rate
at that school.
The Adlerian Perspective
The concern for sensitivity on the part of educators to the
meanings of retention as experienced by students who are retained
necessitates a theoretical perspective which explains human behavior
within a social context such as schooling. In this section basic Adlerian
assumptions are described.
Adlerian psychologists assume that people act subjectively in
given situations and are not reactive. They assume that people are
responsible for their choices and for their behavior (Dinkmeyer &
Dreikurs, 1963). "We are not victims of fate, but creative, active, choice-
28


making beings whose every action has purpose and meaning" (Corey,
1990, p. 201). Phenomenologically, individuals give every situation
meaning. Experiences in and of themselves are not significant, however,
the meaning that a person attaches to them is. Dreikurs, in Eckstein et al.
(1975), provides a succinct summary of the basic Adlerian philosophical
assumptions with the term "holistic socio teleologic analytical" (p. 2). A
synopsis for each assumption in that term follows.
"Holistic" refers to the Gestaltist notion that people are more than
the sum of their parts, more than the total of all bodily, thinking, and/or
feeling functions. "Thoughts, feelings, beliefs, convictions, attitudes, and
actions are all expressions of the uniqueness of the person ... an
integral part of a social system" (Corey, 1990, p. 201).
"Socio" is interpreted broadly to refer to our desire to belong, to
"find our place in society" (Strop, 1982, p. 10). It incorporates the notion
of "social interest" which is more than the need to belong.
[It] reflects our attitudes toward our fellow man. The individual with
sufficient social interest accepts responsibility not only for himself
but also to and for the group.... Good adjustment require[s] the
growth and development of social interest. (Dinkmeyer &
Dreikurs, 1963, p. 9)
When people feel insecure and inferior, instead of performing according
to societys expectations, they "defend themselves" (Eckstein et al., 1975,
p. 2). They strive to protect their self-esteem in ways which are
manifested in inferiority and helplessness, or a striving for superiority.
"Teleologic" behavior is purposive behavior which may or may not
make sense to another person. In this study the behavior of a child "may
not make sense in terms of adult purposes" (Dinkmeyer & Dreikurs, 1963,
p. 9), but it does make sense to the child who sees his own behavior as
29


the only way to accomplish something that is important to him or her.
People may or may not be "fully aware or conscious of... [these] basic ..
. decisions" (Eckstein et al., 1975, p. 2). Strop summarizes Adlerian
beliefs concerning goal-directed behavior.
Individuals move toward a self-directed goal which they decide
will provide security, significance and self-esteem. Every behavior
or act will be consistent with, and in service of, the goal toward
which the individual is moving. (Strop, 1982, p. 12)
The meanings individuals create for themselves are best understood by
discovering what individuals are striving to accomplish (Corey, 1990).
"Analytical" refers to the impact that past experiences have on the
way people view the present situation. Any reference to the past enables
us to discover the private logic which consciously or unconsciously
influences that view. (Eckstein et al., 1975, p. 2). Family constellation,
birth order, and family atmosphere, ofterTprovide keys to unlock the
private logic.
It is important to have people narrate their own references to the
past in their own words through open-ended interviews. Narrations
provide a guiding cognition for behavior. "Individuals are influenced not
by facts, but by their opinions of the facts" (Strop, 1982, p. 19).
Summary and Conclusions
The hortative pleas of responsible educators and researchers
have done little to dissuade educational practitioners that grade retention
may not be the most effective prescriptive for failing students in public
education. It appears critical to illuminate for educators the experience of
retention and to make explicit the implicit meaning of retention as it
30


relates to students, to schools, and to society. Much of what is implicit
has driven the choice of retention as good for students for over one
hundred years.
In this context, the literature which has been reviewed has been
limited to those areas of inquiry which would provide insight and
background from which this study rebounds. Literature which described
current opinion and raised justifiable concern about the use of grade
retention included writings from the following authors: Berliner (1986):
Canter (1986); Casanova (1986); Featherstone (1986); Lindelow (1985);
McNergney and Haberman (1989); Natale (1991); and Overman (1986).
Comprehensive reviews of the research on grade retention which
presented realities of the ineffectiveness of grade retention in terms of
standardized measures of effects on students were drawn from Holmes
and Matthews (1984), Holmes (1989), and Jackson (1975). That body of
literature which dealt with research on pervasive beliefs about grade
retention from adults and students could be found in writings of Byrnes
and Yamamoto (1985, 1986), Phillips (1983), and Shepard and Smith
(1988). Finally, research results providing information about the issue of
grade retention in elementary grades and its effects at the junior high
school level included Anfinson (1941), Cromer (1982), Hannel (1985),
Kamii and Weikart, (1963), LeDantec (1983), McAfee (1981), Phillips,
(1983), Sablan (1988), and Safer (1986).
Several conclusions can be drawn from this review. The primary
reason for continuing to remediate failure in the schools with grade
retention is the pervasive belief on the part of school administrators,
teachers, and parents that retention is effective in its remediation of low
31


achievement (Byrnes & Yamamoto, 1986, Shepard & Smith, 1988).
Educational research on young adolescents presents authoritative, but
not exhaustive, findings to the contrary. The research indicates that
retention has beneficial effects only under conditions identified by
Holmes. However, meta-analyses show consistent negative effects of
retention, and most researchers conclude that it is harmful (Anfinson,
1941; Holmes, 1989; Jackson, 1975; Kamii & Weikart, 1963; McAfee,
1981; Sablan, 1988; Safer; 1986).
Research has delineated beliefs concerning appropriate reasons
for retention with academic ability only one of many professed reasons.
Other reasons proffered as appropriate include students' negative
attitudes toward school, poor work habits, non-attendance, poor conduct,
or lack of maturity (Byrnes & Yamamoto, 1985, 1986). Parental
expectations for quality performance have reportedly pressured
kindergarten teachers to retain students at that level (Shepard & Smith,
1988). Studies conducted at the secondary level concluded that,
regardless of when students are retained they are unanimous in their
expressed attitudes about grade retention, reporting it to be a negative
experience (Byrnes & Yamamoto, 1985; Sablan, 1988; Phillips, 1983).
Students who had not dropped out of school four years after retention
stated that retention was an experience that low-achieving students
deserved (Phillips, 1983).
Research conducted at the junior high school level indicated a
significant correlation between grade retention and absenteeism, school
suspensions, and misbehavior of students (Safer, 1986). Junior high
school literature also reported discrepancies between personal
32


adjustment, achievement, and recorded grades of retained and promoted
students with retained students falling behind (Anfinson, 1941; Kamii &
Weikart, 1963; McAfee, 1981; Safer, 1986). Researchers of two separate
studies ascertained that there were positive effects of retention for junior
high school students in terms of achievement test scores and grade point
averages (Cromer, 1982; Phillips, 1983).
This study assumes that the key to a better understanding of the
effect of grade retention at the junior high school level is an in-depth
study of the meaning of retention from the point of view of the students.
Accordingly, an Adlerian framework was described as pertinent to
understanding of data as students mediate experience in terms of its
meaning to them. The actual effect of retention on students may be very
different from the intended effect. Succinctly describing the current
dilemma thaMhis study addresses, House (1990) says,
The rhetoric used to promote [the abolition of social promotion and
toughen academic standardsis] tough to impress the public [and
students] that something rigorous [is] being done. The emphasis
[is] on public relations. The picture that emerges from [the]
research is that students are retained in arbitrary and inconsistent
ways (p. 12).
33


CHAPTER 3
THE RESEARCH METHOD
Introduction
This research was designed as a qualitative, interpretive study
which had as its focus the creation and derivation of the meaning of
retention for students, not outcomes or products of retention that could be
measured quantitatively. Existing problems and paradigms of retention
were exposed in order to transcend common understandings and to
enlighten new policies and practices (Page & Valli, 1990).
It was assumed that retention is more complex than traditional
quantitative studies have indicated. What students had to say about the
experience of retention is critical to understanding the practice of
retention as a policy issue. With new understanding comes the
opportunity for policymakers and educators to reframe policy statements
and practices affecting students who fail in school.
The unique responses of the individuals experiencing a
phenomenon is central to the potential of interpretive studies according
to Page and Valli (1990). What makes sense to one student may not
make sense to another student for there are "multiple truths, multiple
understandings, some contradictory to others" (Lincoln & Guba, 1986, p.
77). Critical to the purpose of this study was the discovery of the unique
responses of students and the explication of what made sense to each
one as he or she experienced retention. This research was substantially


different from experimental or survey research because it encouraged "a
fundamentally different way of thinking" (Page & Valli, 1990, p. 4) about
commonly accepted beliefs and practices such as retention.
This chapter presents characteristics of qualitative research in
general and as they relate to this study. Data reduction decisions are
described in terms of the theoretical framework of this study and the
background and experience of the researcher which leads directly to the
research questions, the procedure followed to obtain permission to
conduct the study, and the selection of participants. What follows is an
explanation of the procedures utilized to collect, analyze, and display
data. A summary of data verification procedures concludes the chapter.
Characteristics of Qualitative Research
Qualitative research has "matured, and become absorbed into the
mainstream of educational research" (Fetterman, 1987, p. 4), and as
such it has the potential to be useful to parents, teachers, administrators,
and policy makers in education. The results of qualitative studies provide
information not available from quantitative studies. Qualitative research
refines or clarifies how one understands an issue. It does "not prove or
predict the world" (Page & Valli, 1990, p. 7). The perennial issues
associated with all research, quantitative as well as qualitative, are
generalizability, validity, and reliability. In qualitative research these
issues take on a different form.
35


Generalizabilitv
Generalizability for this study was addressed through detailed
documentation of the characteristics of the subjects and the procedures
used in this study. This study utilized criterion-based sampling
techniques suggested by Goetz and LeCompte (1984) to improve
generalizability. To investigate thoroughly the experience of retention,
the study was designed to span an entire school year with the same
students. It was assumed that such a design would facilitate access to
more authentic information and allow the readers to extend the
understandings from this study to other individuals in other settings
according to what was logical to them (Shulman, 1981).
valitiily
Mishler (1990) addressed the issue of validity in qualitative
research by explaining that the absence of clear cut, well-defined steps
which would help assess the validity of a study are replaced by a
ponderous emphasis on understanding meaning. In this study the focus
was on understanding the meaning students attached to the experience
of being retained. By extension, there was an emphasis on the school
setting, the values and the practices of educators in a school district
which uses retention to remediate failure. This research focused on
people, "rather than technical exercises," (p. 419) which typically
accompany quantitative methodology. The validity in this study was
reformulated in terms of how trustworthy the conclusions were. And
conclusions depended on the clarity with which the researcher captured,
described, and interpreted student experiences.
36


Reliability
Reliability in this research refers to replicability. The naturalistic
quality of interpretive research renders replicability difficult at best (Goetz
& LeCompte, 1984). Miles and Huberman (1984) confront this issue with
the assertion that, because qualitative research is largely narrative, the
analysis of the data becomes critical. The procedures selected for
collection and analysis of data were extremely useful for the organization
and management of the data. These same procedures were also useful
in terms of the credibility of the study and in transforming the data which
would encourage general agreement among researchers who attempted
a similar study, but not strict replicability in the traditional, positivistic
sense.
Reduction of Data
Miles and Huberman (1984) suggest that qualitative research
procedures include "three concurrent flows of activity which occur before,
during and after data collection: data reduction, data display, and
conclusion drawing/verification" (p. 21). Most data reduction decisions
occurred prior to the collection of data. In this study those decisions were
organized and supplemented by Goetz and LeCompte's (1984)
prescriptions for describing the conceptual framework, drawing on the
personal experience of the researcher as it applied to this study,
establishing the research questions, obtaining permission for the study,
and selecting participants.
37


A Description of the Conceptual Framework
The issue of retention with the meanings that students attach to the
experience were investigated qualitatively at three levels: facts
surrounding the retentions, common meanings students attached to
being retained, and intersubjective meanings of the retentions. Factual
meanings were most easily compiled and generally taken for granted.
There was a "second level" (Taylor, 1982, p. 118) of meaning explored
because facts exist within the conventions or norms of the schools in
which the facts are generated. The issue was not that these students
were retained but that there were common meanings they attached to
their experiences. To explain the common meanings, it was necessary to
delve into yet a third level of understanding, the "intersubjective" (Taylor,
1982, p. 121) which included the normative factors which produced the
underlying issues generated by this study (Thornton, 1987, p. 29).
The practical concern of this study was to make explicit what was
implicit, that is, the meaning of retention as it related to students. An
essential task was to understand the meanings of the retention
experience for the students who were retained and the implications these
meanings had for schools and society. Underlying such research was
the theoretical perspective which holds that individuals create, sustain,
and act upon beliefs about what is and what is not meaningful to them
(Dinkmeyer& Dreikurs, 1963).
Students were retained contrary to the admonitions about the
deleterious effects of retention policy and practice from researchers
(Anfinson, 1941; Byrnes & Yamamoto, 1985, 1986; Holmes & Matthews,
1984; Holmes, 1989; House, 1989,1990; Jackson, 1975; Kamii &
38


Weikart, 1963; McAfee, 1981; Sablan, 1988; Safer, 1986; Shepard &
Smith, 1988). Therefore, this research was designed to highlight what
seemed to be a contradiction between existing research and educational
policy and practice. The analysis at three levels of meaning was
intended to investigate the reasons for this contradiction by clarifying the
social norms from which existing policy and practices were generated.
Investigation of this kind is for the purpose of "improving educational
practice" (Thornton, 1987, p. 28).
Personal Experience of the Researcher as It Applied to the Study
Thornton (1987) wrote that different conceptual backgrounds and
experiences of researchers make a difference in research. These
differences influence the goal of the research as well as the selected
methodology. The background and experiences of this researcher as a
junior high school counselor prompted a concern for junior high school
youngsters who experienced retention and, consequently, framed this
study.
Central to this study about retention were student interviews
conducted with a human relations counseling model from Okun (1976)
which posits three key dimensions of the interview, (1) stages, (2) skills,
and (3) issues. The first two dimensions, stages and skills, involve the
development of a relationship with students that is trusting, genuine and
respectful, attends to verbal and nonverbal messages, and provides an
appropriate response. The third dimension, issues, involves the
students' responses to their situations. All dimensions include the
researcher's professional and ethical response to the students.
39


The Code of Ethics provided by the American School Counselor
Association delineated the researcher's role with students providing for
their protection in terms of confidentiality and ethical conduct. Ethically,
primary responsibility in the role of counselor as researcher was to the
students, "not to any other individual or group" (Okun, 1976, p. 196). It
was vital that that role be clarified at the outset and repeated often
throughout the study. Professional counselors do not take advantage of
students because of "ignorance, insecurity or ineptness ..." of their
students (Okun, 1976, p. 196).
Training and experiences of this researcher as a school counselor
strengthened the methodology in three ways. First, the study relied on
skill in quickly establishing relationships with students and administrators
which encouraged discussion of sensitive issues, including emotional
reactions from students to experiences with significant consequences.
Simply eliciting honest responses from students required careful probing
into their constructions of the meanings attached to an event and
responsible use of the conceptual framework lent by the Adlerian
perspective which helped provide accurate interpretation of the event.
Second, because the experience of retention was expected to arouse
emotional responses that might be painful, appropriate support was
required. Finally, the issues discussed necessitated the use of norms of
appropriate confidentiality and responsibility for the welfare of the
youngsters in the study. This researcher brought to this study the
sensibilities and the understandings necessary to comprehend and
respectfully interpret the realities of grade retention for retainees.
40


Ih.8 Research Questions
The research questions which guided the collection of data were
these:
What is the experience of being retained from the
perspective of students who are retained?
How do student perspectives on retention correspond
with current literature and research findings about
grade retention?
The following questions were used to elicit elaborated responses
about the grade retention experience in initial interviews with students:
When did you know that you would be retained?
Who told you that you would be retained?
What causes a student to be retained?
What did you think, feel, do, say when you found out
that you would be retained?
What is the purpose of retention?
What do you wish had happened this year?
How do you think things will go this year?
Describe yourself as a student.
Describe what school has been like for you.
Results from previous research on retention clustered around five
areas which provided the general framework for subsequent interviews
with students. These interviews were open-ended to explore student
behavior, achievement and grades, relationships, feelings about school,
and feelings about themselves. Students supplied the data from their
point of view. The questions helped identify themes explored throughout
the retention year.
41


Administrators in each of the three junior high schools were asked
to explain the retention policy which existed in the district (Appendix A),
and interpret that policy. Interpretation of policy by administrators was
critical to the study in that retention decisions were left to the principals
discretion in each building according to the guidelines which identify
potential retainees as set forth by the district policy. Administrators were
also asked to describe procedures utilized in their schools to determine
who would be retained. Questions were designed to provide a
contextual backdrop for students' reported experiences.
Permission for the Study
Permission to conduct the research was sought from the Human
Research Committee at the University of Colorado, the Assistant
Superintendent in a suburban school district, the principals of the three
junior high schools in the district, the parents of the potential research
subjects, and the six students who were selected for the study.
Criterion-based Selection of Participants
The junior high school principals in a suburban school district
were contacted in June of 1990 to describe the study (Appendix 6). The
principals provided the names of the seventh graders who were to repeat
the seventh grade during the 1990-91 academic year, a total of 29
retainees in three schools. Believing that "strangers make better
informants" (Spradley, 1979, p. 28), the three retained students who were
to be my counselees were not considered for the study. Three students
perceived by their principals to be in the throes of familial upheaval also
were not considered for the research. The Special Services Department
42


for the school district was contacted to identify students who were
retained and also served through special education. There were five and
they were eliminated as subjects for the study. Seven students were
moving from the district, or were unavailable for an initial contact from the
researcher, and they were eliminated as subjects for the study.
Following this preliminary screening, parents of eleven potential
subjects were contacted to explain the study. Anonymity was promised
to all who might participate. Students and parents were asked to agree
to a one year commitment of time, express a willingness to allow students
to discuss school issues, and sign a Consent Form (Appendix C). As
parents expressed further interest in having their youngsters participate
in the research, questions were asked of the parents in order to facilitate
selection of participants based on specific criteria rather than a random
sample (Goetz & LeCompte, 1984). Parents of ten of the eleven students
agreed to answer questions. Final selection of six students was made in
June of 1990. Parents of four students not selected agreed to their
youngsters' participation if replacement subjects were needed.
Selection of students was narrowed from ten to six in order to
focus more efficiently and effectively on selected participants. The
number of students had to be large enough to encompass some
diversity, yet small enough to be manageable given the intensive nature
of data collection (Goetz & LeCompte, 1984). It was assumed that with a
criterion-based selection of participants "peculiarities that produce the
generalities" would be found (Miles & Huberman, 1984, p. 42).
According to Goetz and LeCompte (1984) criterion-based
selection of representative participants "requires that the researcher
43


establish in advance a set of criteria" (p. 73). The researcher established
the first criterion, home school, to increase the possibility that an equal
number of participants from each of three junior high schools would
provide the contrast and comparison of retention practices which were
assumed to exist within the overall district policy. This criterion (two
students per school) would capture different experiences in the same
setting and experiences across three different settings. Additional criteria
abstracted from the literature on retainees included the following: (1)
gender; (2) ethnicity; (3) socioeconomic status (SES); and (4) prior
retentions. This study was designed to investigate the experience of
retention. By maximizing variation on criteria found in the research
literature, it was assumed that the researcher would capture variability of
the retention experience. The distribution of criteria is provided in Table
1, and the stepwise decision process for selecting students is described
below. Information in bold type indicates determining factors which lead
to the student's selection for the study.
The selection process was a stepwise decision strategy. The first
student to be selected was Kim because she was the only girl available.
The second selection was David, an Hispanic male, because he
represented ethnic diversity among the retainees. JR and Scott were the
only students retained at junior high school number three (Saddler) who
were available for an initial interview. Their participation completed the
selections for Saddler Junior High School. (JR's selection added an
interesting dimension to the selection of participants because he had
been retained once before in kindergarten.) Phil, from school number
two (Pitt Junior High School), had been retained in the sixth grade and
44


was to be retained again in the seventh grade. His second retention
meant that he would be in the same grade as his younger sister. His
selection also meant that Allen and Will were automatically eliminated
because they too attended school Pitt Junior High School. Finally,
looking at SES distribution, a decision was made to select Eddie whose
family income was estimated by his parents to be about forty thousand
dollars annually. His selection, combined with the earlier selection of
Kim, eliminated James and Jeremy because they also attended school
number one (Rowlon Junior High School). Other student characteristics
are provided in the case studies.
Table 1
Selection Criteria
STUDENT Kim SCHOOL #1 PENDER F ETHNICITY Anglo SES $20 PRIOR No
Eddie #1 M Anglo $40 No
James #1 M Anglo $20 No
Jeremy #1 M Anglo $60 No
Allen #2 M Anglo $60 No
Will #2 M Anglo $60 No
Phil #2 M Anglo $60 6th
David #2 M HISP $20 No
JR #3 M Anglo $60 KDG
Scott #3 M Anglo $50 No
Note: Selected criteria are indicated in Isold print
SES was reported in thousands of dollars of family income per year.
Names of students and schools are pseudonyms selected by the students
Junior High School #1 was named Rowlon Junior High School for the study
Junior High School #2 was named Pitt Junior High School for the study
Junior High School #3 was named Saddler Junior High School for the study
Ethnicity was recorded as Angle/White, Hisp/Hispanic. No Black or Asian
students were available.
Prior means prior retention the year of the retention is listed.
45


Collection of Data
Data for this study were collected by three methods. First, open-
ended interviews with school administrators during the initial phase of
the research provided information concerning the policies and
procedures for retention used in each of the three junior high schools in a
suburban district where a retention policy existed. Next, a series of six
open-ended interviews with six students in the seventh grade for the
second year provided narratives about the experience of retention
throughout the school year. The fifth interview included a graphic
technique (the life line) adapted from Byrnes and Yamamoto (1983) and
designed to elicit information relative to the overall impact of the grade
retention experience. Finally, collection and review of information
contained in student cumulative records and discipline files at the end of
each semester during the academic year of retention provided an
additional perspective on students' school performances and histories.
According to Miles and Huberman (1984) the following six
strategies strengthen validity of a study: (1) collecting data in repeated
contacts; (2) seeking data from a primary source; (3) building a trusting
relationship with participants; (4) conducting studies in a formal setting;
(5) utilizing data that is volunteered; and (6) keeping interviews personal
by conducting them with each participant in isolation from other
participants. The first student interview was conducted in the students'
homes. The purpose of that interview was to describe the study for the
students and allow them an opportunity to decide if they wanted to be a
part of the study. By seeing students in their homes this choice seemed
46


more protected and authentic. Subsequent interviews were conducted
in offices at home schools.
Bias is a concern in all empirical research. Biases peculiar to
qualitative research design are described by Miles and Huberman
(1984) as "the effects of the researcher on the site and... the effects of
the site on the researcher" (p. 232). Protection against both biases were
included in the design and data analysis of this study. One source of
bias was eliminated through the selection of participants as detailed in
the section on Criterion-based Selection of Participants. Additionally,
this researcher did not participate in treatment or retention decisions
during the retention year. The strategy developed to counteract bias
which might be introduced during the course of the research
necessitated making a clear explanation of the nature of the study and
the role of the researcher available to students, parents, and
administrators, and repeating that explanation often during the study.
Also, case studies were read by external reviewers and a cross-site
analysis was conducted.
Research Procedures
Research procedures for data collection and analysis were
derived from Miles and Huberman's interactive model of analysis (1984).
Analysis, summary, and verification of the data occurred from the outset
of the study as the researcher began to look for meaning in the data,
"noting regularities, patterns, explanations" (Miles & Huberman, 1984, p.
22). The meanings that emerged were "tested for their plausibility, their
47


sturdiness, their 'confirmability' that is, their validity" (Miles &
Huberman, 1984, p. 22).
Analysis of Data
Techniques to assist in collection and organization of data,
suggested by Miles and Huberman (1984), were employed at the outset
of the study. Interviews were taped and transcribed using The
Ethnograph, a computer program for analysis of narrative data from
Qualis Research Associates. In order to summarize major themes and
ideas presented during student contacts and to prepare for subsequent
interviews, a Contact Summary Form (Appendix D) was adapted from
Miles and Huberman (1984).
Pattern coding (Appendix E) allowed the analysis to move to the
first of the explanatory levels as themes emerged. "Memoing" (Miles &
Huberman, 1984, p. 69) was utilized throughout data collection to track
ideas as they occurred. A Data Accounting Sheet was developed to
organize data around the conceptual framework and the research
questions (Appendix F).
Two groups, one consisting of doctoral students and the other of
school counselors, psychologists, and social workers, read transcripts of
interviews at the midpoint in the data collection to react to proposed
emergent issues. They read transcripts and summaries again after the
fifth round of interviews as an external check on analysis.
The research design spanned an entire school year helping the
researcher to approach all data collection with renewed perspective at
various points throughout the study. An Interview Schedule (Appendix
48


G) was designed to facilitate access to students at strategic times
throughout the academic year of retention with interviews scheduled
prior to the first day of school and typically after each grade reporting
period during the school year.
Data Display
The purpose of the study was to present information about the
retention experience in a useful format for educational practitioners and
policy makers. To provide the narrative text alone would be, in the words
of Miles and Huberman "extremely weak and cumbersome ...
monotonous and overloading" (1984, p. 79). Chapters 4 through 9 were
therefore systematically organized and focused as case studies for
readability. These case studies were organized and analyzed according
to the conceptual frame. Data about family and school were presented
for each student with the assumption that family constellation,
atmosphere, and birth order would be critical to a student's perception of
self, as well as people and events outside the home. For students in this
study, the focus was on peers, adults, and the retention experience in the
school. Data presented were from the primary source, students
themselves, in order to give the reader a sense of the authenticity of the
research and a keen appreciation of the impact of the retention
experience on the participants, all of which lent credibility to this
interpretive study. Numbers in parentheses refer to the lines from
interview transcripts. The narration in the case studies detailed by these
references are direct quotes. Some of these same quotes are utilized
again in chapter 10 without a second reference. Other data pertinent to
49


each case study were derived from the students cumulative records.
Chapter 10 was designed to summarize and communicate findings
across cases both efficiently and effectively.
Summary and Verification of Data
Miles and Huberman (1984) suggest twelve expedients to help the
researcher reflect upon and organize meanings embedded in completed
research data. Those most appropriate for this study included noting
patterns and themes, subsuming particulars into the general, seeing
plausibility, clustering, making metaphors, splitting variables, factoring,
noting relationships between variables, finding intervening variables,
building a logical chain of evidence, and making conceptual coherence.
Miles and Huberman (1984) state that there are twelve methods
that assist researchers in testing and confirming findings. Employed in
this study, these methods insured data quality, expedited the search for
variability, helped assess the quality of explanations, and provided a
double check on findings. Methods included several strategies which
were built into the design of the study, such as, checks for
representativeness and research effects, triangulation, and weighting of
the evidence. In the analyses, strategies suggested included making
contrasts, checking the meaning of seemingly isolated datum, using
extreme cases, ruling out spurious relationships, checking rival
explanations, looking for negative evidence, and finally, getting feedback
from subjects, an ongoing as well as a final step in the research process.
50


CHAPTER 4
DAVID1
David is small for a thirteen year old, standing five feet one inch
tall and weighing 100 pounds. However, he is beginning to grow a
mustache and shaves regularly. He has brown eyes and an abundance
of wavy brown hair which he wears fairly long and pulled back away from
his face. When he is not in school he is wearing a black leather ball cap
belonging to his dad. He wears baggy pants, oversize shirts, both
usually black, and "hightop" shoes. David is explicit about the clothes he
wears, saying he "never" wears jeans and "always" wears hightops.
There are days when he is absent from school because what he wants to
wear is not clean and he has not done his laundry.
One immediately gets a sense that David would like to be happy
but that he is instead full of rage. David is an introspective and bright
adolescent who eagerly shares his feelings about himself and retention.
The sense of rage seems to build throughout the retention year. In the
first interview, David says, "I wish I hadn't failed." In a retrospective at the
end of the year, he says, "I hated flunking!" According to school district
policy guidelines for retention, his performance the second year in the
seventh grade was poor enough that he was a candidate for retention a
second time in the seventh grade. However, because he finished the
1 Numbers in parentheses refer to lines from interview transcripts.


school year in a psychiatric hospital, his records are not reviewed for a
promotion, retention decision and he is automatically promoted. David is
eager to talk, and except for some initial nervousness, his interviews are
rich in terms of data
David and His Family
Throughout David's narratives there are many opportunities to
record information about the fragility of his family. David, his mother, and
his two sisters share a "dinky", crowded, three bedroom townhome where
conflicts are intense and it is virtually impossible for any one of them to
escape the fights and find solace. Both parents, divorced since David
was three, are ambitious for their children, and try to be involved in their
childrens lives. However, they lack the time, energy, and skill to be with
the children and teach them as much as they would like. David is a
middle child with two sisters, Alison and Melinda. As the only male, he
has always felt pressured to excel, to take responsibility for the family, to
do better than his father. Intense conflict at home, complicated by truancy
from school, resulted in David's hospitalization at a local psychiatric
facility for the remainder of this school year. Within weeks of his
admission, his sister Alison was hospitalized too.
David's Father
David visits his father about once a month. However, visits are
difficult to arrange because his father works irregular hours as a practical
nurse and is attending classes full time to become a registered nurse.
52


David resembles his father who is "Mexican". (901) Together they
seem to share carefree moments.
[Dad and I] usually go to see horror movies, and we just do
whatever. We have pretty much the same taste, so we just do
whatever we want. (60-63)
David shares with his father only some of the problems he is
experiencing. Yet, in his father's responses, David feels that his father is
a sensitive ally.
He had the same problems when he was little so he knows
what I'm talking about.... He just talks to me about, pretty much,
that I've flunked, though he doesn't put it in those terms 'cuz he
doesnt want to hurt my feelings. (761-68)
David's Mother
Because David lives with his mother he says he looks for most of
the support and understanding which he needs on a daily basis from her.
However, in the following script, David describes what seems to him to
be interference with her efforts as a single mother from at least one very
difficult sibling.
[Mom is] really nice and supportive. She usually doesn't get much
time between work and then arguing with Alison a lot, because
Alison gets pretty mad at everyone. She does things with us when
she can. She's just pretty nice. (22-29)
Davids Siblings
David's sister Alison looks very much like David. In describing
Alison, he shares some of the conflict that exists at home between Alison
and himself.
She's usually real mean to me, and we get into fights a lot. But
other times she's real nice to me. Just a week ago she took me
53


and my little sister to a movie and she paid. Most of the time she's
just mad at everyone. (34-40)
David observes that Alison's behavior at home has become more
difficult to deal with recently, not only for David's mother, but also for him.
The already conflictive sibling relationship is compounded by the close
proximity in which the two teenagers must live. David's animosity toward
Alison and what he considers to be a limit to what he will accept is
obvious.
Well, this year Alison's gotten a lot worse than last year. Shes still
sometimes a little bit nice, but that's very rarely. And this year
she's not only yelling at my mom but now she's hitting me. I hit
her back and I get into trouble. But she's not gonna quiet down or
anything... (1145-50) But she is a little bit worse. She's not as
nice to me now. She still, she hits and kicks me, pretty much that
stuff. I think its worse now because I've moved my room... And
so now I gotta' share the same room with her. Not the same room,
but the same floor and it's not that big of a floor anyway. Now she
starts telling me that she's gonna decorate the bathroom the way
she wants to decorate it. I gotta' move all my stuff out into my room
and she gets the bathroom in the morning.... Well, I'm not taking
stuff out of the bathroom since Ive got fish. Second, I'm not
gonna' let her decorate the bathroom 'cause she wants to put all
these posters and stuff, pictures of her boyfriends and stuff up
there. And I'll just take them down. I don't care if I have to flush
them down the toilet, but I'm not going to let her decorate. She
can have her stuff in there, but I'm not taking my stuff out and she
can't decorate! (1178-1213)
Alison's anger with her mother and David worsens throughout the
school year until May, when Alison receives several weeks of residential
treatment in a psychiatric hospital. Part of Alison's treatment, according
to her mother, includes an unusually high dosage of anti-depressants,
after which, David observes that Alisons behavior is much better.
David's younger sister, Melinda is ten years old. She too has the
same physical features as David. He describes her as the fairly typical
baby of the family and their relationship as frustrating and bothersome to
54


him. There are times when David tries to accommodate her, and enjoys
doing so. However, Melinda misconstrues his efforts on occasion and
such incidents become just one more thing for her to complain about.
Well, I just don't seem to like her very much because she,
everyone says, she is shy. Except when I notice her with her
friends, she doesn't seem shy at all to me! She's one of those
people who just knows just how to annoy you, just perfect! (44-50)
She whines a lot, complains about everything. And now it's
getting real annoying. (1247-50) She asked me if I could put this
triangle together. It's got like a big, two, big triangles, two little
triangles and a square. And you're supposed to make a triangle
out of it. And Alison couldn't do it. And Mom couldnt do it. And
Melinda couldn't do it. So after I did it, Melinda started whining
and complaining that I'd done her homework and that now she
couldn't turn it in because I did it. And so Mom starts telling her
that it's okay and she can turn it in and that she doesn't have to
give any credit to me or anything. (1233-47)
To David it seems that Melinda is the favorite child which is very
difficult for him to accept. This portion of Davids narrative illustrates the
perceived disparity between the way he and Alison are treated, and the
way Melinda is treated by their mother.
If Melinda and Alison get into a fight, Alison is wrong. [Mom] has
been shielding Melinda for about four years. (1219-22) She is the
only thing [mom] cares about... Melinda is always right and I'm
always wrong! (1218-19) Like a couple of night ago.... I was
watching TV. And suddenly my sister jumps on me and tries to
push me out of the chair so that she can sit there. And, my mom
yells at both of us to get out of and just leave the chair alone. I got
out. Melinda just sat right in the chair, and Mom didn't say a word.
(1223-32)
David says of the three siblings, "We do not get along that well,
but, I don't hate them.'' (6/27)
David's Perception of Himself
In David's description of himself there is a certain harshness
accompanied by a seemingly rigid, or controlled stance.
55


[I do not have] a good temperament. I don't take things very well.
If something would make me angry, I wouldn't take it very well. I
wouldn't be a nice little boy and turn the other cheek. (5620-26)
Months later, when this retention year is over, and David is at
home enjoying his summer job and no school, he describes himself with
qualifiers, as "considerate, usually committed, and usually responsible."
(5618-19) David likes to swim, ride his bike, read fantasy books and
program his computer, all of which are solitary activities and interests, as
if to protect himself from the realities of the day to day existence, and the
control, or the judgment from anyone else. As he says,
I want to do [everything] on my own without people thinking they
had any part in it because I'm doing it, not them.... I just [like to
have] something to do that [is] different or that at least [gives] a little
bit of a challenge to me___We got a computer and I just like that a
lot... because if something goes wrong, it's not 'cuz it didnt like
me or the program doesn't [know what I deserve]____It's because I
messed up. Not that I didn't work hard enough. (118-37)
David thrives on challenges and is impatient with reviewing what
he has already learned.
[Whether or not I do something] is not a matter of like or dislike. I'll
do something I hate. But, I want something that is not just
reviewing stuff. I don't like to review something that's already in
my head. (308-12)
Even as a small boy David enjoyed playing alone. He expresses
a certain competition with himself and the demand for a degree of
perfection.
I was reading books and stuff I think at like three [years of age]. I
remember what it was like to not be able to to read fast. (3426-29)
When I was really little, I liked to fool around with stuff that I could
take apart and put back together. I was real happy when I could
put it back together without messing it up. (91-96)
56


David talks frequently about his frustration with others'
expectations. Perhaps his dislike of any expectation links back to his
earlier statements about his own expectations and the possibility of being
judged. In the following narrative he talks about others' expectations for
him and how his characteristic response colored a talk the assistant
principal at school initiated with him out of concern for his poor
performance at school.
I just, you know, I just don't like it when people would tell me that
they know I can do better because I don't want people to expect
me to do something. (111-115) [Once I] got pulled out of art to talk
to [the assistant principal] because he said he didn't think I was
going to pass. And throughout the whole thing he kept saying,
'David, I know you can do better. I expect something much better
out of you. And then I really hated it. (156-62)
Family atmosphere and birth order affect all children in different
ways. For David, there is pressure, conflict and insecurity. As the only
male in a fragile family, David is alone with a great deal of pressure on
him to succeed. He has a lot of responsibility and he has power. His
obvious abilities early in life have created a dilemma for him. He is told
that he can and will do well, and in most instances he does. However, he
has no stable role model. He is not perfect, he is not sure of who he is.
He is defensive.
David comes to school accustomed to pushing himself and being
in control. He has a heightened sense of pressure and responsibility that
is self-imposed. He does not need others to tell him what he can and
should do. He needs to be in control over his learning. At the same time,
moving frequently during his early school years, and socializing primarily
with two sisters, he is unsure of himself in a social sense. He needs, and
wants to do very well in his classes and, like all children, to feel as
57


though he belongs. It is logical tor David, that when he perceives that he
has lost control over his learning, and when he feels no sense of
belonging, he can become quite threatened.
David at School A Chronology of the Elementary School Years
A number of themes which characterize David are illustrated in
David's recollections of his elementary school years. He loves to learn,
likes a challenge and learns best in an environment wherein he has
control over his learning. He does well with adults when he feels he is
valued for who he is, not what he does. He comes to distrust most adults,
especially those in the schools. He relies on his intelligence to create
safe boundaries between himself and others. His way of coping with a
world that he perceives to be unsafe becomes more obvious as he
progresses through the elementary school years. When he feels
threatened he is absent. From an affective perspective, David is on
"overload" all the time. Merely being in school as he grows older begins
to present bigger threats and more expectations for him. Being absent is
survival for him. At home he continues to learn, but not the prescribed
classroom curricula. He performs almost flawlessly on standardized
tests, yet cannot perform in the classroom. Throughout the elementary
years his performance decreases, absences increase, and standardized
test scores remain almost constant.
David's earliest memories of school are positive in terms of his
love of learning yet complicated socially until the third grade when he
makes one good, lasting friend.
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[When I] first got to school [I] liked it a lot. (96-97) [However, we]
moved pretty much every year so I had to make new friends every
year, until I got to third grade_I still have one of my best friends
from third grade. (102-108)
Cumulative records for his first three years in elementary school
show that he is an excellent student receiving all "superior" marks. He
entered the third grade in Auburne County. Letter grades in all subjects
were recorded for the first time. David earned primarily B's, but received
Cs in physical education and English. David received a great deal of
attention from his family and teachers for his abilities. Near perfect
performance came seemingly effortlessly to David. However, absences
were numerous as David was new and had difficulty making friends.
As David entered the fourth grade he began to challenge his
education. He says, "I knew all the stuff and I just didn't like [school] so
much." (97-99) School records show that he received a letter grade of C
in arithmetic. Other grades are B's and A's. There are eleven absences
recorded for the year. David took the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills
(CTBS) for the first time in the fourth grade. His national percentage
score for the Total Battery was at the 94th percentile.
In the fifth grade David remembers the curricula as being
challenging at times, but more often frustrating. His response was to
slow down. He wanted, and needed, time to learn how to learn the
material which interested him. And he wanted his teachers to accept
that. All of the work did not come automatically and he did not want to
make a mistake. Work that did come automatically, he wanted to ignore.
His classroom performance apparently frustrates his teacher who talked
with him frequently about "doing better." (347) His response to her
expectation for him is characteristically negative and reveals David's
59


need for control over his learning and his resentment of a different level
of expectation for a different student. It is at this point in David's school
history that he indicates his desire for some recognition that even
"supposedly gifted" students work to learn.
I don't want [teachers] to lower their expectations, because I know I
can do that, and they know l can do that. But, I just dont want
them to expect me to do something more than a normal kid can do.
Because since I'm supposed to be gifted, someone sets a different
standard and I have to get either a B or an A. I don't want people
to expect me to do something that I don't get credit for. If they can
expect a normal child to do C work, why can't they expect that from
me? I mean, whats wrong with someone gifted getting a C
average? Theres nothing wrong. At least that's what I think. And
it's just, there's nothing wrong with it. There's nothing wrong.
(372-407)
David has a lot of feelings which he associates with others'
expectations for him including frustration, fear and anger. Frustration and
fear accompany being asked to work quickly with the heightened chance
that there will be a mistake, or as he says, he might "blow it" and, "I don't
want to blow it!" (512-13) Anger is present when there are control issues
between David and a teacher. As when a teacher says something like,
"Do this, because I said so." David's response to that, is a flat, "I won't do
it." (550)
School records for the fifth grade indicate that David's letter
grades slipped to an almost even number of B's and C's. Also, David
earned his first D, in reading. Absences during the year increased once
again to 37 1/2 days. Even though daily classroom performance had
become an emotionally laden experience for David, he was still learning
what standardized tests measure. His national percentage score for the
Total Battery on the CTBS was at the 99th percentile.
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Recalling the sixth grade, David reveals that he has become a
critical observer of his teachers. He responds positively to a teacher with
whom he does not do well. And he is very verbal about the teacher he
does not do well with.
When I got to sixth grade I liked it a lot 'cuz my teacher, one of my
teachers, was real nice. (108-11) [She] was real nice to me. If I
didn't understand something, I knew I could ask her because she
never embarrassed [me] in front of the class. She never yelled at
[me] for assignments not turned in. But she did talk to me about
them----I liked [that about her]. (2092-2102) We had two
teachers. The other teacher was my worst teacher. (2106-18)
Remembering his favorite and his "worst" sixth grade teachers,
David is prompted to make this unflattering observation about all
teachers, except his favorite sixth grade teacher.
From what I gather, most adults, including my mom, my
grandparents, both sets of grandparents, look at teachers as
people who help people out. They are all nice and help you out
and stuff. And I have met very, very few teachers who are actually
like that. In fact, I've only met one. (2078-86)
Letter grades indicate that David earned more B's than C's in the
sixth grade. However, he also earned D's with the teacher he did not
care for, in social studies and in art, with A's in music and English. Once
again he scored at the 99th percentile on the Total CTBS Battery.
Absences increased 44 days for this school year.
Dave summarizes his elementary school years saying,
As I got older, I knew all the stuff, and I just didn't like it so much. I
liked [school] at the beginning 'cuz it was not so easy and I did the
work gladly. (96-102)
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David at Pitt Junior High School The Seventh Grade
David was looking forward to seventh grade and attending Pitt
Junior High School. However, his enthusiasm turned to disappointment.
The transition did not present opportunities for David to move toward
independence or more challenging work. It is clear in his school
chronology to this point that he is bright and, according to standardized
tests, he has an excellent knowledge base. However, when emotional
issues cloud his performance, he quits, he shuts down, and he is absent.
David expected to be in charge of his own learning in junior high school,
to be in control educationally. While his initial conversations about junior
high school focus on his inability to control the educational issues, it
becomes painfully obvious that David is also out of control socially.
His frustration in the classroom is painfully obvious as he explains
what he found to be true about learner independence at the junior high.
I wanted to go to seventh grade because the [grade school]
teachers kept saying that in the seventh grade the teachers aren't
going to bug you at all about your work. You either do it or you
don't do it and that's completely wrong. (281-88) In math, pre-
algebra, it just, I understood it, and I [knew] how to do it, but, you
know, its just, I just wished they'd do something different, not as
easy. If they would, I don't know, if they could do something to
make it a little bit harder instead of so easy. I just don't like to do
stuff that's so easy and I just want something that's more of a
challenge. (240-49)
David found one subject which was somewhat challenging to him
his first year at the junior high school, science. Both the teacher and the
curriculum, for a time, interested him.
The teacher was great_____Urn, we did disecting____The disecting
was fine because I didn't know anything about that---But
generally, the other stuff, like classes of animals, I already did in
fourth or fifth grade. (253-68)
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David summarizes his first year at Pitt Junior High School as a
failure educationally in the core classes, that is, science, math, language
arts and social studies. However, he did well in the classes such as
drama, communications, physical education and art, which posed no
threat to him personally and where he felt that he had some measure of
independence. Evaluations were less frequent and based on doing.
[I failed] pretty much all of [my classes] except for drama, and I
passed that with a 92 percent.... And communications, I didn't
fail that. I don't remember how high the grade was. But, it was the
electives that I did pretty good in. I just didn't do good in the
normal classes. (223-31)
David's absences throughout the school year were numerous, as
they had been in elementary school He was absent a total of 52 days.
He explains that there were times when he was actually ill. There were
other times when staying home lessened his anxiety about his
performance and the perceived negative relationship with one particular
teacher. It also provided a safe place from harassment by peers.
Well, usually, I'd say about half the time, I really was sick but most
of the time I really just didn't want to [come] to school because of
two things. Urn, one being [the social studies teacher who] took
great joy in telling me [I was failing]... in front of other kids.... I
wished she'd shut up. If she has to tell me this stuff she can tell me
in private. And not everyone in the class needs to know [my]
grades.... She just didn't, she just didnt, she just wouldn't... she
wouldn't keep my grades private! (179-206) Number two being
some kids. I usually get beat up in the halls-There will be just
one of me and there will be about four other kids [watching.] And I
just didnt want to come to school. (607-17)
School records indicate that David passed reading, physical
education, computer, communications, drama, art, and shop his first year
in the seventh grade. He failed all of his core subjects. His grade point
average (GPA) for the year was .64 on a 4.0 scale. His standardized test
63


scores dropped from the 99th percentile to the 84th percentile for the
Total CTBS Battery. According to district guidelines, he had failed for the
year and was a candidate for retention.
The Retention Decision
David recalls that it was his social studies teacher who was the
first to tell him, sometime during the second quarter of the school year,
that he would fail.
She just made me stay after [class] and wouldn't issue me a pass
so I could go to my locker. And she told me, 'David ... no matter
what you do [this year] it doesnt even matter anymore because
you're just going to flunk.' (568-74)
He remembers feeling, "pretty awful," and thinking, "If I flunk, I do
not want to be in this class!" (555; 578-79)
Closer to the end of the school year David was informed once
again that he had failed, and that he would be retained. This time the
assistant principal talked with him. David remembers thinking that there
were other options, besides being retained. "I [was] wishing [the
assistant principal] would give me a try in summer school." (5364-65)
The option of summer school rests entirely with the administrator who is
making the retention decision. When David was asked if he had
expressed that thought to his Assistant Principal, he replied affirmatively,
but said the response of the administrator was a quick negative. "Uh,
huh. He said, 'No.'" (5367-68)
David recalls trying harder in school at the end of the year in order
to enhance the possibility of a promotion to the eighth grade with summer
school.
64


[I tried] really, really hard those last two weeks thinking just maybe
at least [the assistant principal] would let me try summer school if
he saw how hard I was trying. But he just said no anyway_______I
was thinking I tried really hard during the year too. In the
beginning of the year. Kind of in the middle of the year for about a
week. And then about the last half of a month of school. (5440-50)
His effort came too late. The decision to retain David had been
made based on his final grades for both semesters.
The Summer Before the Retention Year
During the summer David thought "a lot" (624) about being in the
seventh grade again. He thought about how miserable he had been
socially and the students who threatened him. He recalls, "I was praying
that they didn't flunk so they would go into the eighth grade and I
wouldn't even have to see them." (624-27)
Possibly escaping some of his peers was one advantage to being
retained. However, David had other thoughts which were not as positive
and reveal some of the confusion he felt at finally being caught in, what is
by now an old dilemma, not doing what he has been told to do in class.
The anger he expresses is the by-product of his struggle for control. It is
clear in these excerpts that David resents the people who remind him of
his dilemma and appear to have more control than he does.
[My thinking] changed.... Sometimes I wouldn't care at all, and
sometimes I really wished I hadn't flunked. And sometimes I was
just... in the middle. I just didnt know what to do because
between [the social studies teacher] telling me, always telling me, I
was going to flunk, and all my other teachers nagging me about 'I
know you could do better,' and then the [assistant principal] calling
me in there and telling me.... I just didn't know what to think.
(659-71)
Shortly before the retention year is to begin, David expresses his
regret at failing and talks more about his anger with himself, and the
65


teachers. He touches on his lack of confidence that, even with a
retention, anything will change. David reasons that if he failed, even in
part, because of teachers, he will fail again. It seems to David, that most
teachers "might" be the same as those he has already experienced.
I wish I hadn't failed. (908) [I'm] sorta' mad ... at pretty much,
well, actually a lot of things--I'm mad at myself for not doing the
work, and I'm mad because if I get more teachers like [the ones I
had last year]... they will probably do the same thing that [my
teachers] last year did----Since I haven't had them before, they
just might have expectations set again, (his voice trails off) (913-
55)
David is sure that the decision to hold him back for a year will
result in his having even less control over his future, a future in which he
has little trust. He muses aloud over the ramifications of finishing behind
his friends. He has his own plan to catch up which is not possible
according to the assistant principal. David however, would like to be
able to do very well and prove to the assistant principal that skipping a
grade, in this case a retention year, is possible for a seventh grader.
I thought that this was terrible because, unless I could work very,
super, super, super hard and get straight A's in every single
subject there was no way I [would] be able to catch up to [my
friends]____I just don't want to have to go to college a year later...
. I want to be able to get out at the same time as my friends and
stuff. (643-55) [It has] messed things up for me, I know it has. (771-
72). I wanted to get out of school early because I don't know if
some of these colleges are going to be open_______When I get out of
school, I want to go to an electronics college. I'm afraid that just as
soon as I get out, [the college] is going to shut down.... Now I
have to wait another year! Unless I can get straight A's and skip a
grade. (776-87) [The assistant principal] told me there was no way
I could get those kinds of grades [Straight A's]__He said
skipping is usually used in the third grade, stuff like that.... I
would like to get those grades and prove him wrong. (789-814)
David says he understands why he was retained.
66


To make sure that... since I didnt do the work, they didnt know
that I could do it. And if I couldn't do it then it would be just plain
stupid to stick me in something harder than what I couldn't do in
the first place. (1633-41) I missed too much school, that was my
biggee [and] because my grade point average was [too low].
(3544-47)
David expresses his anxiety about school and his reluctance to
start the year for fear it will be similar to last year. Similar in the sense
that what happens in school with the teachers, school routines, peers, the
school environment, and what David perceives to be a lack of school
discipline, will not have changed. David confides that he does not feel
safe at school, and explains why.
I have no idea (he mumbles) [how things will go]. (676) It
depends. I probably will have to [come to school the first day]. But
I already did that once. I'm probably going to have to [come] even
though I know all that junk. If they're going to hand out schedules
and stuff that day, then I'll have to come. I don't know, (he
mumbles softly) It's probably going to be, I just think its going to be
kind of, a pretty bad day for me. Because ... what usually
happens is ... the first or second week, you have to be sure that
no one's picking on you If they are, they do it for the whole
year because they know they've already got the better of you. And
that's what happened [last year].... A bunch of people, when a
new guy came in, during drama, me and one of my friends got
locked in the closet. They, some of them, held the door shut while
one of them had time to come and tell us to shut up because if the
teacher found us in there they were just going to come after us.
And so every time we'd say something, they'd ... come over and
start hitting us. And so, I've just gotta' make sure that no one's
picking on me the, for the first two weeks. (676-714). I gotta' avoid
them because I'm small and people have a pretty good chance of
carrying me. That's what they did last year. They were able to do
it only once and they got caught.... I don't know how they got out
of trouble, but they did [Things] stayed the same [after that].
One of them lives really close to my house____During ... the last
two weeks of school, I got beat up in the hall by two kids and then
after school one of them came after me again. We called the
police and so I'm just going to have to make sure no one is picking
on me. (718-39) If I don't screw around and... if I [can] just get to
my locker and get to my next class, or get to my bus before any of
them ... then I [will] be fine. But if I get slowed down [my plan
won't work], (819-30)
67


David expresses his fear of other students. That fear seems to
escalate as David thinks about the few friends he has who are moving on
into the eighth grade. He shares his concern about keeping them as
friends and adds his resolve to make new friends. He is confident that if
he doesn't enjoy any friendships at school, he will have time to interact
with friends through his computer.
Well, I don't know. I try to put myself in one of my other friend's
shoes who, uh, flunked. And, I don't know. He doesn't have that
many friends. There's me, and about two or three others_____Ill
still be able to see my old friends because I have to go through
eighth grade halls.... I'll probably make some more friends,
because, well, definitely make some friends. One of my friends I
met in computer class. Lucky enough we both had IBM modems
and so we can talk over the modem a lot. (843-60)
David anticipates three good things about being retained, all
related to a sense of superiority over other youngsters by virtue of his
experience, age, and computer ability.
Well, one thing that's good about it. I will have an advantage over
most of the kids because I've played basketball a lot longer so I
can play basketball a lot better. And I seriously doubt any sixth
graders are going to be able to pick on me. And I'll probably be,
well, I know pretty much all the stuff in computer class. I already
know that stuff because I studied BASIC when we got our first
computer [at home] and I started programming. (870-82)
The Retention Year
As the retention year begins, David discovers that his problems
are much the same. However, the circumstances surrounding the
repetition of school work lend themselves to an easy advantage. He is
able to work faster than others students. To the extent that he is able to
achieve some kind of superiority over other youngsters, he finds
repeating,"okay."
68


Well, what I don't like about it is that since I've already learned the
stuff. I'm having the same problems as last year. I already know it.
What I do like about it is I already know it. I can do [the work] a lot
faster and a lot easier than everyone else. So it's kind of so, so.
It's okay and not so okay. (973-82)
There are some things in class that are new for David which he
finds encouraging. These new experiences are in physical education
and computer class.
It's not as bad as I thought it would be. I thought it would be
terrible because it would be boring all the time. I'd know the stuff.
But physical education is different. There is some new stuff that
we didnt do last year. And in computers, instead of having the
Apple, we have the Mac. (987-95)
David describes his motivation at the outset of the year in
optimistic terms. However, it erodes slowly. By November, he is
slacking" off, he says, for the same reason, boredom.
I was all ready to shoot for it, go for it. I was doing all my
homework. Several bad grades, but most of them were good
grades. I was getting 100 percents in math. I got my highest
grade on the math test this year. But then I started slowly slacking
behind. Just slowly. It turned into bigger and bigger things. I
started slacking off... the same as last year. I knew it. It started to
get boring and so I stopped. (1262-76)
David explains that he stops working when the work is too easy or
when he doesn't understand something.
I didnt understand the assignment. I just didn't do it. (1996-97) I
guess it was not just that I didn't understand it, but I didn't
understand what to do. (2001-03)
When the work is hard, David is challenged and pursues a
solution with resolve.
I read through the instructions a couple of times. If I still don't
understand it, I look at it... and see if I can find a pattern_Then
I can figure it out. (2020-26)
69


David continues to resent the regime that he is required to follow
in most classes. He talks about math specifically.
That's too easy. There's no challenge at all. And also what I don't
like is scratch sheets. You have to use a separate sheet of paper.
I would do most of it in my head and then Id have to write it down.
But I just do it in my head... It's just boring and I don't like doing it.
(1963-75)
David laments his lack of progress and shares his frustration in the
fact that nothing has changed from the previous year, except his mother's
expectations which are even higher this year because he has already
learned the material.
This morning [November] I woke up and realized that I am doing
the same thing I was doing last year. And I gotta' get my act
together because I am doing the exact same thing I did last year.
My parents, my sisters, everything.... My mom is nagging me
more this year. And my dad is not exactly nagging me, but he
wants me to do the work. From not doing the work already, I've
been grounded about three times. Even after I turned in the work.
And my mom is setting higher expectations for me because I know
the work! (1112-32). [She thinks] that I should be able to do all the
homework all of the time and get at least 90 percent. (1137-39)
David's lack of progress is not something which can be easily
remedied by having someone show an interest in his performance.
David could equate someone's interest in his performance to"nagging,"
and having someone else set expectations for him. In this narrative he
explains why that is a problem for him, and his control issues surface
again.
[Adults] should be supportive about [my progress] but not nag.
Like I don't know about the meetings about my grades. I don't
want anyone to talk to me about my grades because if I want to
know what my grades are, I'll come up and talk to them about it. If
people are nagging me about grades and telling me what to do,
its just as bad as setting expectations for me I don't want [my
mom] to nag me about my homework. I don't feel I did it. It's kind
of like if you're running a race and you can't get through one part
70


and someone does it... like pulls you through. You didnt do it. I
want to be able to say honestly that I did it myself. (1859-80)
David objects to letter grades in isolation from any commentary
about specific effort. Wanting some credit for what he has done, he
suggests a more definitive grade report, not unlike the computerized
reports which many teachers are using.
Instead of having a report card saying the whole grade, I wish that
they would also send a small sheet showing like a gradebook that
has a line showing the A's and stuff and so that they know what
happened when. And then they could help you with it instead of
just saying the whole grade was a D or the whole grade was an F.
But then it shows, 100 percent, 100 percent, 100 percent, 100
percent, then zero, zero, zero. (1893-1903)
David's grades the first quarter incite frightened outbursts from his
mother. He is beginning to regret his current relationship with his mother
and cites the retention as generative of more conflict at home.
Retention has caused some problems with my mom. With every
bad grade I bring home, she yells, 'David! You're gonna' flunk
and be in the seventh grade for three more years!'... She seems
to think that it's going to be the worst thing in the world since I
flunked and I think that's rather dumb. (3623-35) [When she says],
'You're going to flunk again!' (4648) [it seems as though it is] kind
of like a punishment, like the grounding, (he says very sternly)
'Youre going to flunk again!' (4655-57)
Not only are David's grades poor, and his relationship with his
mother is deteriorating, and David is beginning to regret being in the
seventh grade again for social reasons.
I wish Id done the work. Well, pretty much, I wish I'd done the
work because then I could stay with my friends. The thing I don't
like is that I can't be with my friends in classes and stuff. (1031-38)
David expresses a sense of isolation from his best friend and
plans, yet again, to skip a grade.
Well, both me and my friends want me to skip, so, if I don't do it this
year, I'll have to do it next year, no matter what. And, it's like
71


mostly between John and me. Because we were in almost all the
same classes last year and we're best friends. We want to be in
the same classes again. (1058-65)
Davids relationships with his teachers seem strained. He
expresses the same confusion and frustration he has talked about
before. Additionally, David describes how he sits in a class and
passively pushes his teacher's limits. When she becomes angry with him
he says he doesn't understand why, and takes no responsibility for the
altercation.
Some [grades] were good but, I dont understand. (1480-81) I
don't ask my teachers anymore because they start yelling at me
about all this stuff, 'Well, if you did this, and then, 'You just didn't
do that in class, and 'If you did this.' Theres no one to ask about it
so I just leave it at that and try to do better. (1491 -1504) I know
that [the social studies/language arts teacher] doesn't like me. Like
it wasn't my fault at all when she gave a book for us to read. She
asks why I'm not reading. I say 'I can't read this.' She asks why
and I say, 'Because pages one through 58 are missing. They
were just torn out. And so she got mad and yelled at me for that
and finally gave me a new book. I don't know why she yelled at
me.... She said I should come to her in private instead of saying it
in front of the whole class. I see no difference in saying that I'm
missing about half the pages in this book in front of the class or
personally. I didnt see what was wrong with it. (1681-1702)
Attendance, is becoming a problem for David as early as the first
quarter. School records show that David missed nineteen days out of 42
days during the first quarter. He describes his physical complaints and
the discouraging effect that the absences have on his performance at
school.
I have headaches. I just don't even feel like I can get up. I just ask
my mom if I can stay home. She doesn't want me to, but she
finally let me. I have about a week and a half of homework sitting
at home just piled up. (1468-75)
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While absent David misses not only the work, but also basic
information about how teachers manage the class. He explains how one
grade easily became an F.
I didn't know until November that we were supposed to be
handing back the [homework] sheets that they hand out for the
assignments.... All I knew was that they handed them out and
they showed all your homework, and you check it off when it's
done. I didn't know we were supposed to hand it back for a grade.
... It came up [when] there were all these little zeroes ... and I
asked where they were coming from. [The teacher] told me about
the sheets but I didnt know what to do with them.... She doesn't
collect them. We were supposed to set them on the desk. I never
saw anyone set anything on her desk either. I didn't know about it.
I just looked at it, did the homework, got it done and then just threw
the sheet away----I didn't do all the work [either]. Some of it got
lost. Some of it I didn't understand from missing school. (1914-53)
David's attendance became a bigger problem for him when he
learned that one of his teachers had asked his sister Alison about him.
The teachers inquiry was perceived by David to be "stupid." It was
apparently difficult for him to be approached by his sister about the reality
of his performance at school, and his analogy is alarming.
She [the teacher] has been yelling at my sister and my sister's
friend for me.... I dont know why she is doing that_She yells
at her for me not coming ... and she yells at her for my grades....
So shes yelling at two people when it's my fault. She can, you
know, talk to me about it. I have no problem with that. But to be
yelling at other people about my attendance and grades it's like
dumb. I mean, suppose you've got two flowers. One of them is not
growing very well at all, so you go and take a butcher knife and
butcher the other one for it. It's just kind of stupid. (1804-20)
David's attendance and performance throughout the quarter
prompted the school to ask his mother to come to the school for a
conference with the assistant principal. According to David the purpose
of the meeting was to discuss his progress. The subject of David's ability
73


was broached by the assistant principal, to which David, again recoiled,
sensing that the administrator was mad at him for not doing well.
[They wanted] to discuss my grades and [we had] to explain that I
had strep throat and [Mom] had the doctor's note to prove it. And
what happened there was [the assistant principal] was mad at me.
I could tell because he told me so right to my face that he expects
higher than average work from me and I told him right there that I
didn't expect anything like that.... Finally, I got through to him that
i just wanted to be treated as an average person. I don't want to
live up to expectations that are higher than what an average
person would do. And then he got mad at me. (1513-30)
In the meeting David was told that he was expected to earn,
"Straight A's, no Bs, no C's. Straight A's. (1536-37) Even though David
is struggling to survive academically, and has not received all A's since
he was in the primary grades, the school psychologist who attended the
meeting dismissed any concern over David by saying sardonically,
"David's got a high IQ. He could do it. He's smart." (5610)
David expressed his own frustration after the meeting. In his
words are the seeds of defeat. His plan to skip grades has become more
intricate. It seems to be his attempt to mediate having been made
abnormal by being retained and become "normal" again.
Well, I don't like the idea of straight A's, but if I have to do it, I don't
want to stay with the seventh graders this year. I want to stay with
all my friends____I don't think I can do it. I'm still going to try for it,
but I don't think I can do it this year. But Im going to try to do it next
year. (1566-75) What would be going on is that through the first
semester of eighth grade I'll be doing normal eighth grade work
and then I can work ahead. Because like what I did this year, I
was working about ten lessons ahead in math. I was working
ahead in English. I couldn't get ahead in social studies because
the teacher said I couldn't, but she let me get ahead in English....
If I totally complete pre-algebra this year, I will move into formal
algebra. If I can get at least nine tenths of it done then they're
probably going to forget the one tenth not done and put me into,
urn, ninth grade next year. But since I'll be having to do what we
have in algebra next year and ... since I'll be working ahead, I
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wont exactly be missing the work because Ill be normal. (1585-
1608)
Despite his absences and dismal academic performance
throughout the first quarter, David says he is beginning to feel more in
control socially. He attributes it in part to his size this year.
This year Im not as small as I was last year. I'm bigger than even
some of the eighth graders. I was talking to my mom about it and
my dad says I should get to be around five feet eight inches tall
and that's not too bad at all. Now, I'm actually stronger than I was
last year. And also I'm not quite as afraid. (1368-76)
David is relieved to discover that other students are responding
favorably to his being in the seventh grade instead of the eighth, and
compares that to how he thought that they might react.
Well... I'll be walking down the hall and I'll say 'hi' to somebody
from last year and theyll ask me what Im doing in a seventh grade
homeroom and I'll tell them. It's not hard for me to do_(1738-
43) I expected I was going to have a bunch of kids running around
saying, 'Oh, flunkie!' (3643-45)
David is making new friends, and a lot of the old fears are gone.
However, one enemy from last year surfaced. He too was retained, and
has begun to bother David. Outwardly David is handling it.
Sam, the same one who beat me up last year at school, he didn't
do anything for awhile but then, you know, he starts to throw paper
at me in the classroom.... And hes got some friends who were
sixth graders last year. They can't do anything to me. I almost got
in a fight with one of them at the bus stop. I don't have to worry
about them, just pretty much Sam. He can't do that much since
he's not with Jason. He hasn't really done anything this year. I
don't see Jason that often since he's in the eighth grade and I'm
not.... I was hoping all of them would go on, but definitely Sam
flunked. The fact is that he's in almost all my classes. (1289-1314)
He nags me. When I came back from strep throat... I told him to
forget it_It doesnt matter___Once we got into the hall... all I
did was shove him down and he stopped. But I haven't had
papers thrown at me pretty much since then either. Sam stole a
tape from Shawn and I went in the hall to ask the teacher if I could
take the math test early if I worked ahead. As soon as I came back
in [the room] Shawn saw the tape so he told [the teacher] and she
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made [Sam] give it back. Everyone thought, since I went in the
hall to talk to her, I'd ratted on him which was totally untrue, but
that's pretty much the worst thing__I'll be walking down the hall.
.. he'll just kind of shove me and call me a narc. But that's ... not
too bad. (1323-56)
David says that what is happening is "not too bad." However, what
he says about isolated skirmishes with peers at school, and what he
does at home later are two different things. According to David, the
frustrations he experiences at school are expressed in violent behavior at
home.
Like this year... I'm getting into so much trouble with my mom and
stuff. For instance, since people think I ratted on Sam, I've made
more holes in the walls and stuff like that. I already busted the
door thats now my sister's. I was mad and so I started running
through the hall to go upstairs and I slipped because I was trying
to just kind of hit the wall when I passed and I slipped on a
magazine.... I got a big old gouge in my arm from it_I know
this [scar] will be permanent. This has been a couple of weeks
since it happened and it's still like this. I cut my hand when I
punched a hole through a door. I didn't think it was going to be so
hard. I just wanted to hit it. And urn, I put my hand through it.
(1376-1400)
David's voice reveals the anger he is feeling as he talks about
hitting the door and the wall. He describes more of what he is feeling as
he compares this year to last year and how what he does to allay the
anger does not seem to be working.
[I have] a lot more anger than last year. (1402-03) So far I've been
breaking things. It seems to help a little but it's not the best thing to
do since I have to pay for the things that I break_I've tried a
couple of things. I've tried just going outside... running. One
time I just ran home from school and skipped riding the bus and
everything which was a stupid idea since I had a full pack of
homework. That just made me madder since I had this big old
thing to lug around. I tried exercising and that doesn't work either.
So I'm stuck 'til I find something. Nothing seems to work. (1408-
23)
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David truly believes that he is "stuck". He says he has no one to
talk to except his friend John. He does not trust his mother with his
private thoughts, and he is guarded about what he shares with his father.
[There is] no one that I could really talk to about my problems.
(3173-74) I don't talk to my mom because she wouldnt
understand. I don't talk to my big sister because if I told her
anything, she'd just start telling everyone. I can't tell my little sister
because she's an annoying twerp and she doesn't know anything.
I don't tell my dad because I just don't tell him. Sometimes i do but
... I've talked to him about some things, you know like getting beat
up and stuff and we talk about that, but I just don't talk about it.
(1428-44) [Johns] my very best friend of all_He asks if Im
doing all my work. You know. He cares what I'm doing. I'll tell
him how I'm doing, good and bad. (1713-23)
At the end of the first semester David had been absent an
additional 24 days for the second quarter. According to school records
he had earned B's in his computer and shop classes, C's in physical
education and home economics, D's in science and health and three F's,
in language arts, social studies and mathematics. David acknowledges
with a devilish grin that being retained has changed his attendance and
his grade point average, "It changed my attendance. I broke a record ...
[and my grade point average is] above a .017!" (3553-63)
The Second Semester of the Retention Year
In February, David arrives at school with a pair of very white,
obviously new high tops, or sneakers. This prompts a narrative, which at
one level is a seemingly simple story about a boy who needs new shoes.
It is also about the family's difficulty in dealing with the demands of
everyday living, and the myriad of excuses David uses to rationalize his
non-attendance. Earlier in the year, his mother wrote a note to the
assistant principal to excuse David from school because he had
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outgrown his pants and she could not afford to buy a new pair. In this
narrative he has outgrown his shoes. It is not until school starts after a
three week break and he has missed another day of school that his
mother has to ask why he is not in school.
Well, the old [shoes] didn't fit, and so I missed a day of school
because I didn't have shoes that fit.... I hadn't worn them in
awhile. I'd been wearing socks. It was just around Christmas
Break and I'd been walking around wearing just my socks.... I
went to put on my other shoes for school on Monday and they
didn't fit__My mom got very, very mad and so I got new shoes
that night. These are them. (2262-81)
David candidly explains his rationale for the absences which go
beyond one day after the winter break. There is a vicious cycle the
absences create for him which fuels his internal rage.
I was sick-and-tired of my teachers. After about the first two weeks
that I missed, I started getting worried because I knew the second I
went back I was going to have to deal with, 'Oh, you're back. I see
you finally decided to join us again___I just kept putting [coming
back to school] off and putting it off because I always hated that
when you go back they say, 'Why don't you stay awhile?... They
are saying it very sarcastically which severely annoys me. You
can't go around hitting your teachers and also the whole class with
them. It gets very annoying. (2306-34)
David's behavior at home and his absences began to push his
mother's limits. She seeks professional advice to enable her to take a
stand with him. He describes what she has decided to do if he does not
attend school.
Physically I feel terrible. I have missed too much school so that if I
miss one more day, I'm going to be sent to a mental hospital for
about two weeks which will be very expensive and then I will be
sent to a foster home. So, I can't miss anymore school. And right
now, I think I have like a touch of the flu or something and I can't
stay home. (2289-99)
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David looks weary. His face is colorless adding emphasis to the
deep, dark circles under his eyes. His eyes are glassy. He talks more
about the idea that he could be sent to a mental hospital if he is absent
again. He thinks the idea is outrageous. He talks about the
consequences his mother has tried to implement at home to get his
compliance, and about the anger he is feeling. He also talks about his
perceived loss of control.
I'm still mad at my mom for that!... It concerns taking me out of the
house I'm in now, putting me into a mental hospital for a battery of
tests, which we're doing all this week [at school] too and then
referring me to a foster home. So, since it concerns that much of
my life, I think they should have told me_'They' being [the
assistant principal] my mom, my dad----[Mom] told me I'd better
start going to school. That's it.... She didn't tell me about what
was going to happen.... The other times I'd been grounded from
everything else. I'm still grounded from everything else ... my
bike, my skateboard, going over to friends' houses, which I still do
because she cannot physically stop me. She can't sit on me
through the whole day. Theres nothing left to punish me. There's
no more grounding she can do.... The only time I'm allowed on
the computer is for projects It makes me very very mad at all of
them. I think, if they're gonna' talk about me, I should be there.
(2355-2437)
School is but part of David's problems as the second semester
begins. The near crisis situation for David at home includes intense
family conflicts and emotional upsets, many of which are in response to
his not attending school. The conflicts are also in response to David's
apparently slovenly habits and his mother's fear that David is involved in
something which is beyond his mother and his grandparents who have
come to help. The tragedy of the situation surfaces.
My grandparents came down a little while ago and all through that
time I was putting up with, 'Cut your hair) Shave! Clean your
room! Make your bed!' And then they started going through ail my
personal stuff while I was gone. I was over at a friend's house. I
79


came back. They had cleaned up most of my room and they were
poking through my personal stuff when I walked in. They were
going through my desk with notes from my ex-girlfriend and stuff,
reading them. I started yelling at them. My grandma went off
crying.... My grandpa and me, we haven't been on very good
terms since then. I'm putting up now with my mom telling me my
life is ruined and that she wants me to go to school so I can get out
of the house as soon as possible. She doesn't want me living
there any longer than I have to. I assumed she was just saying
that at first because she was mad at me. But then she kept saying
it, and saying it, and saying it. There's a lot of stuff going on right
now. (2546-73)
David is encouraged to keep talking. He does, revealing the
depths of his despair, his distrust of his mother, and his desperate
longing for an escape and the privacy in his room.
Well, like at home I'll be just like laying in bed, actually thinking
about if there was anyway that I could run away and get out of the
house. But then, of course, as soon as I got caught I'd be sent to a
mental hospital because I'd miss school. Then the judge who'd be
going over the case would definitely say I'd probably have to stay
in a mental hospital longer because I'd run away. So, it's basically
a situation of stay here, or run. And if [I] get caught then [I'm] in
deep trouble. (2580-2593) I'm getting tired of what my mom is
always saying about [my] life getting totally screwed up. My
sister's bothering me. My little sister is as annoying as ever. It just
keeps coming on all sides and crushing______[Mom] thinks that if I
argue with her, I must somehow be screwed up. (2627-28) [We
argue about] grounding me and going into my room. She
promised to stay out of my room and I trusted her. So, I went to a
friend's house to spend the night and when I came back she'd
already gone in my room. I walked in there and the door was just
swung wide. My little sister was in my room taking out one of my
books to read. (2632-42) [That's my room with]... my personal
stuff which is kept in my desk... letters from my ex-girlfriend.
Pretty much stuff like that__I could share it with most of my
friends. (2646-58)
Issues at home and school surface around expectations, again,
which are difficult for David to accept. Davids mother decides that he
needs professional help. She. uses his grades as one obvious reason for
her to seek help. David responds negatively and intellectualizes his
response.
80


[One] reason my mom thinks I've got a severe problem is if [I'm]
getting like a 3.0 grade point average and then [I'm] going to a 4.0,
it's great. [I'm] a genius. There's nothing wrong. But if [I] go from a
4.0, or if [I] go from a 3.0 to a 2.0 then [Ive] got a severe problem...
. She's recently sent me to [a therapist]. I told her from the
beginning I don't want to go there. She took me. [The therapist]
asked all kinds of questions. She had no business asking about
my personal life. It made me very angry with her. So, the next
time I went again. I still didn't want to, but again, she made me go.
So when she tried to take me there a third time when I was with
John, staying after school to watch a basketball game last week,
we got into a very big argument right in front of the office. I was
telling her I wasn't going and finally she got mad and walked off.
(2668-2715) It's like why should I tell a complete stranger, who is
getting paid to listen, something that I won't even tell my parents?
(2732-34)
Characteristically, David says he would prefer to handle the
problems with his mother by himself. He makes it sound as if they can be
handled reasonably.
I plan to take care of that by myself. It's not really that I want to
argue. But, if I have a different opinion than my mom's, I say, 'No.'
Like she told me that I was grounded for the next two weeks for
going over to John's house. I said that I didn't think that she
should be allowed to do that because the only thing that I've done
is that I talked back to her. She told me that I pushed my sister too
hard. I didn't push hard at all. My sister even said that. We were
just screwing around, so, [Mom] yelled at me. I yelled back and I
got grounded longer. I decided that when it came to John's
birthday party, which was a little while ago, I'd just go anyway.
(2845-63)
Despite David's desire to handle things himself, his mother, father,
and the assistant principal have worked together to come up with a plan
for David's school day which will encourage him to come to school. In
spite of his resistance to anything other people plan for him, there is a
certain amount of independence in the plan which appeals to David.
[The assistant principal was] telling me that he was going to totally
change my schedule around with special ed classes. I'm working
in special ed classes til I'm caught up___They're letting me work
on what I want to work on. They're giving me a choice about what
81


I want to do. Like in science__I want to do a report on computer
viruses. In social studies I chose to work on the Middle Ages. In
math I just have to do the odd problems__I get to eat lunch just
normally and then I have an elective sixth period. I'm doing
communications and PE. This is the third [quarter] I've had PE this
year.... I'm getting used to it. (he grins) (2453-2517)
As David begins his new schedule he describes the chronic anger
he is feeling.
Pretty much the only thing I feel is ... anger. I don't feel
depressed. I don't feel like I'm very sad. Or, I don't feel very
happy. I just feel angry. I'm mad at pretty much everyone in the
whole world. I'm mad at my parents for not telling me what was
going on. I'm mad at [the assistant principal] for the same reason.
I'm mad at pretty much everything. (3156-65)
David wants to make things better at school. With his acceptance
of the special education placement, he explains that, "things are fixed for
now." He describes certain things he likes about a self-contained setting
and contrasts it to his regular education classes.
[I want]... to go to school. I try very hard at school. I've got the
problem fixed for now, but people are expecting stuff out of me.
(2800-06) They have put me in a place where I can be self-
contained and catch up on my work_____I couldnt do that with just
staying in the classes that I had. (3207-11) [In special ed classes]
I've never, ever seen someone else get yelled at because they
didn't know how to do a problem. They get walked through it.
(2826-28)
The problem which seems to revisit David often is the recent loss
of his girlfriend. Characteristically he thinks he can solve that by himself
also. His response to the frustration over losing her is inappropriate. He
beats up someone else, which accomplishes nothing. Finally, he says
flatly, "I cant stand it."
She broke up with me_____Well, I thought it was all one of my ex-
friend's fault. He told her that I told him that I was just using her for
her body and that I thought she was a total slut. [She believed
him]. He's now an ex-friend and I hope he is still in pain... I told
him I wanted to talk to him. I told him I wanted to meet him over by
82


the [parking lot]. So he comes there and I told him I wanted him to
tell the truth. But she thought I'd made him tall her that and that I
didn't really think that. So she still hates me.... I can't stand it.
(3260-88)
David intellectualizes his behavior in an attempt to put his
problems into perspective and convince himself that his life is not
"severely screwed up."
My mom] thinks Im sitting off in a corner, not going to my classes,
smoking ... taking cocaine in the bathrooms____[I'm] obviously
not doing that. That would be real dumb____My life is not severely
screwed up. I've got some problems right now, but it's not
screwed up. (3300-16) I haven't attempted suicide. I haven't run
away. I thought about it, as you know. But every single person in
the world has thought about it. I haven't killed anyone. I haven't
severely beaten up anyone. (3097-3102) I'm pretty much just
having problems at home and school. Urn, they're not abnormal
problems.... Everyone's had problems with their life, girlfriends,
pressure, expectations, stuff like that. And so, that doesn't worry
me that much. If someone's life was screwed up to the point of no
return, it would be someone who was going around attempting
suicide. I dont think Im screwed up. (3321-32)
As David begins to be more productive in his school work, there is
noticeable improvement in his grades. His grades are, as he says," very
good I think. 3.156 [grade point average]." (4204) David's new found
success at school is the result of his placement in a non-threatening,
independent, self-paced setting where he perceives that there is support
and encouragement. There is a part of David that would like to stay in
the confines of the special education setting, but he has been told by the
assistant principal that he cannot.
I know I cant stay in [special ed] for the rest of the year. I like it a
lot.... [I'll be there] for four weeks, or until I can finish all my work,
whichever comes first____Then I get my schedule changed back to
what it was with normal classes and electives sixth and second
periods (3648-62)
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School records show that while David was in special education,
he earned two Cs in math and PE, three B's in social studies, science,
and language arts, and two A's in reading and communications. His
attendance was much improved.
[My attendance] has been pretty good. Well, since the semester, it
has been very good. Ive only missed a total of five days. (4165-
67) The four days I missed I had a sinus infection. And I did have
a note from the doctor. I had my sister bring it in. (4195-98)
David's progress did not last. His schedule was changed at the
end of the third quarter. He was taken out of the special education
setting and placed in regular classes. David says, "I didn't like [the
change back to regular classes] as much. I liked doing my independent
studies." (4189-90)
One month into the fourth quarter, David and his family
experienced tremendous turbulence because David, once again, refused
to attend school. His behavior at home had become notably violent. His
mother had told him before that if he did not attend school he would have
to leave the house. She anticipated his behavior and took immediate
and unexpected action by admitting him to a psychiatric hospital.
David never expected that anything different would happen than
what had always happened when he stayed home from school. David
describes the event which precipitated his hospitalization, another
absence from school.
I came home and found out that Mom had gone in my room again.
... She went in to take the computer out because she thought that
I hadn't gone to school and I had. (3887-3900) I didn't sign in in
the attendance office because I just went to class. (3905-06) I was
really late.... I didn't feel very good that day and I was going to
leave [for school] at noon__I was stopped by the firemen
because they thought I was running away [when] they saw [me]
84


running through the field with this jacket and this bag_They
went through my bag and saw my math book, my science book
and some paper------By the time I got to school there was only
about five minutes left--[Mom] thought I just stayed home.
(3912-52)
David thought that the consequence for not going to school would
be the same as it had always been, loss of computer privileges. His
mother did take his computer on the first day of two days that he was
absent. Her action provoked such an angry outburst that evening that the
following morning David's mother came home from work unexpectedly,
with his uncle, and took him directly to the psychiatric hospital.
[I thought she would be] taking away the computer___[This time]
my dad called [me at my friend's house] and said that I should go
home_____So I got home and went down in my room and the
computer was gone.... She'd just gone in my room and didn't tell
me. Just let me find out for myself. So I was real mad. I slammed
the door behind me and put my fist through the door. [I] cut my
hand. [That] got me even more mad so I kicked the door three
times. On the third time it kind of like fell off_Next day I didn't
feel that good.... My hand was still pretty sore and so I walked to
school. I just walked out the door at 11:00, after I'd done my
laundry and stuff.... Mom was there. She said, 'Don't bother.' I
asked her if she had been down at the school and she said, 'No ..
. go pack your stuff.' So I grabbed some clothes and some books
and stuff like that. What really gets me mad is my roommate [here
at the hospital] knew I was coming that morning. My uncle and
aunt knew. My sister knew. My dad didn't know and I didn't know.
... I mean, it concerns me leaving the house and coming here---
I just thought I should have been told first. (3971-4040)
David describes other events besides his non-attendance at
school which occurred prior to his hospitalization. They include angry
outbursts in response to the issue of his personal privacy and his
mother's uninvited entry into his room. David also reveals troublesome
sleeping habits. He quickly adds that he knows such habits are
characteristic of the depression he has been told he suffers. He flatly
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