Until now the bulk of the research favored social promotion. Most studies found that students who were retained tended to fare less well academically than demographically similar students who were promoted. The problem with this previous research is that it was never entirely clear whether retained students did worse because they were retained or because whatever caused them to be retained led to worse outcomes.
Social promotion is the practice of promoting a student (usually a general education student, rather than a special education student) to the next grade only at the end of the current school year, regardless of when or whether they learned the necessary material, in order to keep them with their peers by age, that being the intended social grouping.
When teachers decide that one student should be retained while another demographically similar student should be promoted, they probably know something about those students that suggests that the promoted student has better prospects than the retained student. The issue is a hot button topic now, as two major cities rethink their positions on “should the child be left back” legislation.
Cities have begun to revise and revisit strict positions.
D.C. Council Member David A. Catania says he plans to introduce legislation to repeal a rule that requires most of the District’s elementary- and middle-school students to be passed along from one grade to the next. The regulation in question permits schools to flunk students only in grades three, five and eight. It also says that in most cases, a student can’t be held back more than once during his or her D.C. schools career. The result, Catania says, is that too many children are pushed along despite lacking basic skills. Then they find themselves in high school facing graduation requirements that they’re not prepared to meet.
New York City Mayor Bloomberg called for an end to social promotion for the city’s fourth and sixth graders in 2009. This morning comes word that due to over crowding of summer schools the program must be revisited in its entirety.
Chicago implemented a policy designed to end social promotion and raise academic achievement. The centerpiece of this initiative is a set of promotional test-score cutoffs for third, sixth, and eighth graders. Students in these grades must achieve a minimum score on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS) in reading and mathematics in order to be promoted to the next grade.
States are tying funds to the educational progress of its students throughout schools.
Connecticut is forcing reform of the entire state’s education system. In the new system, kids could take three, five or six years to finish high school—as long as it takes to master the material. Kids can no longer scrape through high school with D minuses. HSC is the first public school in the state to make the jump to the new system, called competency-based learning, according to Larry Schaefer, a senior staff associate with Connecticut Association Public School Superintendents (CAPSS), which has been training Connecticut schools in how to implement the method.
New Mexico won’t allow third graders to move on if they’re not reading at the level they should be. The governor will ask the legislature for $13.5 million to get younger kids the reading help they need. In addition, graduation and continued promotion will be dependent on students reading proficiently by the fourth grade.
Tennessee third-graders will no longer be allowed to move on to the next grade unless they can demonstrate understanding of the curriculum and basic reading skills.
For boys and minorities, retention is even more common. Nationally, by the time students reach high school, the retention rate for boys is about ten percentage points higher than for girls. In the early grades, retention rates are similar among white Americans, African Americans, and Hispanic Americans. By high school, the rate is about 15 percentage points higher for African Americans and Hispanics than for whites.
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