Can You Get Held Back in Middle School?

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Are you thinking about the possibility of being held back in middle school? Are you interested in finding out more about the effects of grade repeating a middle school class? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then this is the right article for you.

Although relatively uncommon, the practice of holding kids back in a particular grade for poor performance hasn’t stopped. There are several reasons today why a school may hold you or your child back in a grade. If a school is considering holding your child back, you’ll probably know why and what other options are open to you. This article will answer all the questions you probably have about being held back in middle school. It’ll also explain all the basics, including the pros and cons. Read on to learn more.

What Does It Mean to Be Held Back in Middle School?

What Does It Mean to Be Held Back in Middle School?

Being held back in middle school is also known as getting left back or grade retention. It is a practice of holding children back in middle school after they’ve failed too many classes. The use of the term has changed over time.

Before the early 1970s, for instance, most school districts in the US and Canada held back students who failed two or more core courses. However, after a while, teachers and parents got concerned about the negative impacts that this had on their kids. After severe consideration, a solution was reached to promote underperforming students irrespective of their number of failures. This meant that students only got held back for being frequently absent. By the 1980s, the practice surged in popularity. However, this soon led to concerns from school districts about students’ academic performance; hence, they reinstated the policies of holding back students.

Retention rates increased in 2002 after the No Child Left Behind Act was signed. This bill was introduced by the US Department of Education to improve academic standards around the country. The bill typically focused on four areas, including:

  • Flexibility
  • Accountability
  • Parents options
  • Research-based education

Part of the accountability process involved the state needing to test students between their 3rd and 8th grade in math and reading. School districts have since resulted in forcing students that fail any of the standardized tests to repeat s grade. This is why some paranoid parents pay for tutoring to help their children score enough to move to the next grade.

Even after several years, we can still see how widely the policies between states and individual districts vary. Several schools might choose to send students that fail multiple classes to summer school to avoid class retention.

There are also cases where parents and teachers decide to hold a child back because they fail to meet up to speed with the reading level required for their grade. This should not necessarily be seen as a bad thing considering how fundamental reading aptitude is to their school progress.

Why Do Students Get Held Back?

Why Do Students Get Held Back?

Holding kids back is not as common as it used to be. But if a school is considering holding you or your kid back, then you’ll want to know why. In this section, we will explain some important basics that you’ll need to know about.

Why Schools May Recommend Repeating a Grade?

Why Schools May Recommend Repeating a Grade?

One of the primary reasons schools often recommend repeating a grade is perceived as lagging behind in a kid’s academic ability. The school is usually in a better position to know whether your child has built the academic skills needed to move to the next class or not. If, in any case, they think that your child is not ready for the transition, they may recommend holding him or her back. The whole process is born out of the idea that an extra year will help your kid catch up.

Apart from your child’s academic performance, however, other factors may push a school to recommend repeating a grade. Some additional factors that may lead to this include:

  • Your child has missed school several times due to severe illness or any other reason.
  • Your child is socially immature. This means that your child is considered too young for the next grade.
  • Your child’s performance is below what’s needed to move to the next grade.

Some districts also have third-grade retention laws that specify for kids who can’t read to stay back at a certain level. However, some states have exceptions to this law, and that’s why we stated earlier that the retention law might vary from state to state. If you are not sure, you can ask your child’s school what the law says about third-grade retention in your state.

How Long Can You Be Held Back in School?

How Long Can You Be Held Back in School?

The answer to this question typically depends on your jurisdiction. We are also assuming that by asking this question, you are interested in the public education system. For starters, the state often has more control over public education compared to federal agencies. Therefore, in most situations, the length of time a middle school student gets held back depends on the state rules. Sometimes, it is also determined by whether a child attends private or public school.

In reality, a lot of thought goes into the process of deciding whether a child should repeat a grade or not. This is why a child’s inability to understand a particular concept may not be enough to force a child to repeat a whole grade.

To answer the question, most states allow students to only stay back in a grade for two years. Most states pay for public school until a certain age, making it almost impossible for a child to graduate in a traditional program if they get held back more than twice. However, a school can still decide to hold a child back for more than two years, depending on the system being run and several other factors. But some serious questions precede the decision. Most times, when a child gets held back more than twice, it becomes counterproductive as it will make them develop a sense of awkwardness throughout the school. This would minimize the student’s potential disruption.

Instead of holding a child back for too long, it’ll be better to identify the performance issue and place the child in a different learning environment (when appropriate). Sometimes, the solution can be as simple as recommending an alternative textbook that they’ll be comfortable learning from.

How Many Times Can You Repeat a Grade in Middle School?

How Many Times Can You Repeat a Grade in Middle School?

As we’ve explained earlier, the number of times a child is allowed to fail a grade is often determined by the state. A child will typically be held back as many times as possible until one of these three things happen:

  • The child eventually graduates from 12th grade without letting anything hold him/her back from earning a high school diploma.
  • The student decides to drop out of school. (Most states do not allow this unless the child turns 16 years old.)
  • The student’s age surpassed the maximum allowed middle school age, and he/she can no longer attend school.

Apart from these, a student can be held back in a grade on the school’s discretion for as many times as is needed for the child to meet up with the standard that’s expected for him/her. Since the number of times a student repeats a grade mostly differs by state, the best way to know for sure is to check with the education board in your district or ask the child’s school when possible.

How to Deal with Being Held Back in Middle School?

How to Deal with Being Held Back in Middle School?

Repeating a grade in middle school can be frustrating, and when faced with this situation, many parents find themselves having to choose between two difficult decisions. Should they help their child move by handing in a special request to the school or let them repeat the grade. As incredible as grade retention may sound, it can cause more harm than good without proper management. Both parents and affected students need to know how to go through this phase without letting the negatives get at them. Here are some tips that will help you deal with being held back in middle school.

Start the fight within

To win a fight, people have to deal with themselves first. An affected student needs to start the battle by dealing with all the negativities, anxiety, distress, depression, and isolation that will cloud their thoughts during this period. It’s understandable to be crushed and heartbroken by the situation, but you’ll do yourself better by realizing that it is not the end of the world. Instead of drowning yourself in sorrow, think about the positives and move on with a resolve to do better.

Analyse your mistakes

An important step that will help students walk through the period is creating personal time when they can analyze the whole situation. This is where the students get to learn the reasons behind their initial failures and steps to mitigate them. This will not only help them perform well, but it will also help them overcome the agony that comes with the previous failure.

Take help from teachers

When students fail, they often tend to blame their failure on the teacher’s style of teaching. Instead of playing the blame game, why not talk to your teacher about it. A student should be confident enough to ask questions in class, but if you are not, you should meet the teacher after the class. This proves to the teacher that you are trying to learn.

Make new friends

Repeating a grade might mean that you’ll lose most of your old friends. But don’t worry, you’ll meet new classmates too. Being with a new set of students gives you the chance to create new acquaintances. It might seem challenging to make friends with juniors at first, but you would soon find the ride easier if you put in the right efforts. Perhaps the reason for your previous failure was your emotional and mental immaturity to handle the class’s requirements. So a new set of friends may be what opens you up to a new dimension of thoughts and understanding.

Work hard

Finally, you’ll need to put in hard work to perform in anything. It’s not different in their case. Repeating a class doesn’t necessarily make you a failure, but not putting in work enough to pass it the second time does. Now that you probably know what went wrong, you’ll want to work hard to ensure that it doesn’t repeat itself. Dedicate more time to attending lessons and personal studies. Hire a private tutor if necessary. Gradually and steadily, you’ll soon notice improvements.

What are the Pros and Cons of Repeating a Grade?

What are the Pros and Cons of Repeating a Grade?

As expected, repeating a grade comes with its advantages and disadvantages. Understanding this would help you leverage on the pros while avoiding the negatives.


  • Kids that have missed a lot of school for any reason would get enough time to make up for all the classes they’ve missed.
  • Younger kids and students with a history of struggling with schoolwork can benefit from repeating a grade.
  • Grade retention reduces the stress of trying to catch up for students that may be developmentally immature.
  • An extra year will offer students with behavioral issues enough time to make corrections before moving to another grade.


  • Grade retention increases the risk of dropping out of school, especially for a child that’s missed so many days in school.
  • Older kids may find it challenging to learn with students that are far younger than them.
  • Unless a new approach is adopted to teach such students, they may not learn anything new, despite repeating a grade.

Wrapping Things Up: Can You Get Held Back in Middle School?

Yes, you can get held back in middle school. However, the whole process can be confusing for anyone. This article has focused on explaining all the basics about grade retention, including tips that will help you get over grade retention trauma.

The law on grade retention value from state to state, but its main purpose is to help students catch up on certain knowledge before moving to the next grade. Throughout this article, we’ve also explained the different reasons why a student might be held back in middle school. If your school recommends grade retention for you, do not feel like you are the object of some evil plot – it’s probably because it’s the best for you. Taking the positives from it and moving on would make you a better student in the long run.

If you find this helpful, you might want to check out our post that talks about getting held back in high school here.

You’ll love our other middle school study tips. Check them out below:

> Can You Get Held Back in 8th Grade?

> Can You Get Held Back in 7th Grade?

> Can You Get Held Back in 6th Grade?

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Professor Conquer

Professor Conquer started Conquer Your Exam in 2018 to help students feel more confident and better prepared for their tough tests. Prof excelled in high school, graduating top of his class and receiving admissions into several Ivy League and top 15 schools. He has helped many students through the years tutoring and mentoring K-12, consulting seniors through the college admissions process, and writing extensive how-to guides for school.

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