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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Is Social Promotion An Elephant in The Room?

Ask most Education Administrators if Social Promotion exists and they'll say it doesn't. If you do a search of the Rock Hill School District web site you'll find no reference to Social Promotion. There was actually an exchange of this nature during a teacher chat during the past year. So, is there Social Promotion?

I'll not address that question specifically, but will share some questions for you to ponder:

  • How do students get to high school performing at a 5th grade level in Math and English?
  • Whey does the 9th grade class size increase by 40% over the 8th grade class size?
  • If 25% of the students do not pass the end of year testing, why isn't the 3rd grade class size larger than the 2nd grade?
  • Why does the South Carolina Education Oversight Committee recommend  students only be retained one time in their career?
Tennessee has passed a bill this year to address this. From Education Week: "Starting next school year, 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.

The new state law, approved this month, exempts special education students. It also permits school systems to promote struggling third-graders if they provide them with proven remedial help before the beginning of their fourth-grade school year.
“It’s not about punishing students by retaining them,” Gary Nixon, executive director of the state Board of Education, said last week. “It’s providing intervention and ensuring they are successful.”
The bill is another step in Tennessee’s push toward higher and more rigorous academic standards, he said."  But, we know there is not a simple solution. The post goes on to say:
 “What we know from a lot of the research is social promotion is really not a particularly productive solution, but neither is retention in grade,” he said. “The challenge is to ensure that we look at each individual student and based on a variety of academic and developmental considerations, really make a good decision that meets the needs of the student academically.”
The school system offers a variety of interventions for its youngest students, including small group instruction and a dedicated reading block daily at the elementary school level, he said.
In Union County, officials are adding two more positions to their Response to Intervention program, an initiative that gives struggling students individualized, targeted instruction, Director of Schools Wayne Goforth said. This brings the number of specialists who are serving its five elementary schools to three.
The bill focuses on the third grade primarily because that’s when students transition from learning to read to reading to acquire knowledge.
The goal is to reach pupils “before they get to the point that’s talked about in this law,” he said.
It also was the best way to reduce the financial impact on the state budget “in times of fiscal constraints,” said Stephen Smith, assistant commissioner for legislation and external affairs for the state Department of Education.
The department helped legislators craft the language of the amendment that eventually became law, he said. The initial bill dealt with all grades.
The legislation is similar to what’s been in place in Texas and Florida for some time, said Sherry Mee Bell, interim head for the University of Tennessee’s department of theory and practice in teacher education.
“One of the unanswered questions about this practice is, ultimately does this increase the dropout rate?” she said.
Bell noted that students who are retained may perform better in fourth and fifth grade but middle and high school could pose challenges with the awareness of being the oldest students in their class.
A positive outcome of the bill is that it could prompt educators to look at school readiness and provide skills children need to be prepared for kindergarten, she said.
Last week, state Rep. Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville, one of the law’s sponsors, said tackling children’s academic problems early will only be in their best interest.
“If you maintain proficiency all the way through, when you graduate from high school … you’ll have a greater chance of post-secondary success,” he said."

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