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.