Most children are taught since the beginning of their educational careers that they must do well, and succeed if they wish to be acknowledged. There was always a black sheep, some boy or girl, who did not do their work and was held back. Consequently, these children were used as horrifying examples of what could happen. However, was the child really at fault for failing to complete grade requirements, or was the system in which they were taught in error? The evidence available demonstrates that children who were retained were not unintelligent, but that education policies were to blame. Although the human race has gone through stupendous scientific awakenings, it is suprising to see that the education policies practiced today are based on the reasonings of a dead age. It is certainly not because Americans do not value their children’s educations but perhaps because we live in a country that is not always aware of significant aspects of our society, particularly education. Social promotion, in use nationally for at least 20 years , is an educational policy where students are advanced from grade to grade. There is no regard to their learning because it is a widely accepted notion that they learn better with their peers. “Studies show that it’s better to promote an underachiever than keep them down,” stated Peg Dawson from the National Association of School Psychologists. Yet, high profile protesters of this system include both United States President Bill Clinton and The American Federation of Teachers. In many cases, children are advanced repeatedly without knowing basic educational skills, and suffer greatly when in high school. Social promotion, used throughout the course of the American educational system as a standard policy, is archaic, and should be altered to address individual student needs, helping to create a future conscientious and prosperous society.
The other frequently used option, retention of a student, has also displayed several negative characteristics and is not a likely alternative. Drop-out rates for grade repeaters are generally higher than most students and they often display greater behavioral problems, due largely to the fact that they are older than their classmates. A qualitative comparison is that while only 20.4% of students not delayed were not enrolled in a 4-year college, 54.7% of delayed students were not enrolled in a 4-year college. More than double are not enrolled. The ratio of delayed to non-delayed students with Bachelors Degree’s is 1.7: 9.5 . This is certainly an unacceptable side effect of retention. These students’ educational lives were drastically affected by their retention.
The ills of these former policies are cleansed in a proposed new system. In this system, the promotion standards for grades are raised in order to insure that the students have learned all that is necessary to succeed in the next grade. Most often, students are retained when they do not pass promotion criteria at the end of first, sixth or seventh, and ninth grade. Student promotions are based on two major tests: performance on district wide math-assessment tests, and on their performance on reading-assessments. The reading tests are divided among grade levels: children in grades 5-11 must pass the Stanford Diagnostic Reading Test while students in grades K-4 must perform well on the Developmental Reading Assessment Test.
Students who fail to pass required tests under this new system must attend summer school. These students are given an opportunity to retake their tests and be promoted. Students who fail to pass their tests again are placed in accelerated study programs in an attempt to catch them up with their peers. These programs involve increased focus on reading and math, and extended learning time each day. Their school year is also lengthened to 11 months.
Located in Washington state, Lake Washington International school enforces the new social promotion system of grade required tests and their state assessment results are excellent, compared to the Washington state average. In the reading assessment test, Lake Washington’s average score was 89, compared to the state average of 41. The state average in math, 24, compares badly to Lake Washington’s math score of 84, and the state average of 37 does not compare well at all to the school’s writing score of 81. It is very difficult not to see that this new system of social promotion is working to the benefit of the students.
The New York City school district is also another good example of how this new system can help students to grow academically. The New York school system abandoned the old policy of social promotion and saw achievement in classrooms and attendance rise until the smaller classes were eliminated due to budget cuts. As a direct result, the gains previously achieved reversed themselves. This new system was helping student’s progress and would have continued to do so if it had not been cut short so hastily.
The best example of the positive effects this system can create is demonstrated by the Chicago City Public School System. In 1996, the school system abolished social promotion for the eighth grade, and in 1997 they applied this policy to the third, sixth, and ninth grades. Passing a reading and math test was also installed as a condition for graduation. As part of the system, Chicago spent nearly 42 million dollars on the mandatory summer school in 1998. After this new policy was enforced, student attendance and test scores rose in Chicago. In addition, summer school students passed their promotional tests 54% of the time the second time around.
The past form of social promotion has outlived its benefit and should be replaced by a new type of promotion, one which is based on the students’ needs and on helping them achieve more later on in their educational lives. It is no longer adequate to keep a child back and hope that they learn the necessary staples of that grade. Educators must also now be aware that their roles in these students’ lives are very important. Although current American citizens may be used to taking care of themselves and not taking the time to consider others, the entire future of the country is on the shoulders of their students now. If the country as a unit does not take the time to help today’s students, give them the extra time they need, be it in summer school or in tutoring, these children will be hurt immeasurably in their academic futures. The entire American society will be hurt in the process. The American people must care enough now to change their education policies, or this vicious cycle will continue and affect them dramatically in the very near future.
Filed Under: Social Issues
Social promotion is the practice of promoting students to the next grade even though they have not acquired minimum competencies expected of that grade. The number of students socially promoted each year is unknown because few school districts report these data and other districts have only limited data (U.S. Department of Education, 1999). This practice appears to be fairly widespread, however, according to a 1997 survey conducted by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Results from the AFT (1997) survey showed that 85 large urban school districts do not have a policy endorsing social promotion. Even though social promotion is not officially endorsed in these districts, more than half the teachers surveyed indicated that they had promoted unprepared students the previous year. Reasons given for these social promotions were fear that high failure rates would reflect poorly on the school and school personnel, pressure exerted by principals and parents to promote unready students, knowledge that retention is ineffective, and the absence or insufficiency of effective educational alternatives to social promotion.
Negative Effects of Social Promotion
Educational leaders, governmental officials, and policymakers are clearly concerned about the prevalence of social promotion. In February 1998, President Clinton recommended that the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) (1999) put an end to social promotion. In the past 15 years, 15 states have established specific standards for grade promotion, and others are planning such policies (Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory [NWREL], 1999).
Social promotion is problematic for students, teachers, and parents. Social promotion gives some students the false sense that they have mastered skills necessary for later success. It sends a message to other students that their effort and achievement do not count. Having socially promoted students in the classroom is challenging, because teachers must plan for and teach to a group of children with widely divergent skills and knowledge. Furthermore, it creates frustration among teachers who feel powerless to expect hard work from all students. Social promotion sends parents the false message that their children are adequately prepared to be successful in school and in the labor force (AFT, 1997; National Association of State Boards of Education [NASBE], 1999).
Colleges, universities, and businesses also encounter negative side effects from the practice of social promotion. Data from the NCES showed in 1995 that about one in three freshmen had to take a remedial class in math, science, or writing (NCES, 1996). In addition, college professors are finding that they must lower their standards to assist students who are not prepared for college work. The business community is now investing substantial funds to reeducate students who lack skills needed to be successful in the labor force (AFT, 1997; NASBE, 1999; Thompson, 1999).
Implications and Findings from Local Social Promotion Policies
An increasing number of state and local school districts have created promotion policies that guide decisions regarding students' advancement to the next grade level. The long-term results of these promotion policies are unknown. Recent events with the Los Angeles Unified School District provide an interesting case study of the possible fallout from implementing such standards.
The Los Angeles Unified School District reported on January 31, 2000, that if they retained all the students who had not met grade-level standards, two- thirds of all eighth graders and 40 to 60 percent of second through eighth graders would flunk. Therefore, the district redefined or loosened their standards and it now appears that 6,000 second graders and 4,000 eighth graders will not be promoted. Even though the number is substantially reduced, Los Angeles still faces several significant problems. School officials plan to tailor a curriculum for these students rather than have them repeat the same material. However, they have no place to house the retainees, so they are investigating leasing space from hospitals and setting up bungalows in school parking lots. In addition, they have not identified teachers to work with these students nor have they provided training to give them the skills they need to be successful. Teachers, administrators, and parents are all questioning why the district did not adequately prepare for the possible consequences of the tougher promotion standards (Sahagun & Sauerwein, 2000).
A research study examining Chicago's promotion standards also provides information on the effect of promotion standards on student academic achievement. In 1997, Chicago established promotion standards for grades 3, 6, and 8. Students who do not meet the standards are required to attend a summer program and retake the promotion test. Those who fail in the summer are retained, promoted, or sent to an alternative school. The Consortium on Chicago Research completed a study examining the efficacy of the 1997 to 1998 promotion standards on student achievement (Roderick, Byrk, Jacob, Easton, & Allensworth, 1999). Results from this study showed that the summer program was successful in raising students' performance, but these students remained at risk because the gains were not sustained the following academic year. The students who were retained fared poorly. Only about one in three retained students were able to meet the test cutoff score after two years in the same grade. Furthermore, the retained students did no better than comparable children who had been socially promoted.
Conclusions about Social Promotion
Social promotion is a widespread practice that is being questioned by school personnel and the community at large. Districts are implementing policies to eliminate or severely curtail the practice because of the negative short- and long-term effects. Even though this practice is not in the best interest of students, schools, businesses, colleges, or the community, school officials are struggling with how best to eliminate social promotion and at the same time provide manageable, cost-effective programs that promote positive student achievement.
Excerpt from Current Issues and Trends In Education, by J. Aldridge, R. Goldman, 2007 edition, p. 135-137.
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