Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Social Promotion lets Students Graduate Without Learning

Problem: Many students at each grade level are passed even if they have not learned the material for that grade.

This is the critical problem we must solve. The fact that high-school graduates must take remedial course in college, and that employers complain that job applicants are drop-outs and illiterates, is a direct result of this promotion policy. Year after year many students move through school without learning what they should.

This problem seems to be known as ‘Social Promotion,‘ and in 1999 President Clinton announced that it was time to end the practice of promoting students to the next grade regardless of their academic progress. There is a very interesting article at http://www.educationnext.org/20051/49.html describing how the Chicago Public Schools worked on this problem, starting in about 1995. And the US Department of Education provides a great deal of useful help at http://www.ed.gov/pubs/socialpromotion/index.html

In implementing this program Chicago found that, in the beginning, there was some concern about the feasibility of this change. But in the end, parents, students, teachers, principals, and school administrators largely agreed it was a success. One common point made was that the new policy caused students to be better motivated, and their parents to be more involved in their children‘s education. Putting it another way, ‘Social Promotion’ discourages students from working hard -- they’ll get promoted whether they work or not -- and for the same reason gives parents no reason to become involved.

To solve the promotion problem, we must:

* Set minimum test-score standards for reading and writing in all grades.
* Insure that children who are having trouble during the school year get special attention, either in the class, or in tutoring sessions after class.
* Require that students who fail to meet the standards at year-end, despite the extra attention, go to summer school.
* Require that students who fail after the summer school repeat the grade the next year.

A potential problem: Parents or students may try to refuse the summer help, and even if the help is accepted and the student fails the summer work, the parent may insist his child be promoted. It is essential that such actions be rejected.

At any rate, as a mid-school teacher pointed out, sixth, seventh and eighth-grade students enter mid-school with an average reading and math level of third grade. Another mid-school teacher wrote “A student can fail all classes and be promoted in school”. (To read these comments, click HERE ) So for the above solution to be practical, we must begin by applying it only to (say) the first and second grades. Then each year we can apply it to a higher grade.

The solution to the promotion problem will take determination on the part of the School Superintendent and the School Board. Some parents may demand that their children be promoted. Some teachers may insist that a child who is held back will be somehow harmed. These objections cannot be accepted if we are to have literate children.

This solution will impose new costs, because we need tutors to help our slower learners, (possibly) extra training for teachers to improve their skills, and summer courses so kids can try to learn the material they failed to learn.

Action hoped-for from the reader.

We’d be delighted to hear from anyone who has comments on the Social Promotion problem. To comment, just click the underlined word ‘comments’ at the bottom of this page (or any of the other pages), and tell us what you think. We’d be glad to hear from anyone. You might like to tell us:

1. Why you think schools don’t need improving.
2. Why we’re wrong about the problems discussed above, and why (or what additional problems exist that we‘ve ignored or overlooked).
3. What you think should be done to improve schools.

(Incidentally, your comment or remark or criticism can be anonymous.)

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Anonymous said...

I agree students should not be socially promoted. Until a student has sucessfully mastered one thing (semester, topic, year), there is no point to continue further lessons, because they lack the basics to be able to understand what and why they are doing it. The better foundation that the students have, the more they will be able to learn on their own and advanced to higher levels. If a person does not understand the concept of addition, multiplication, fractions, etc, there is no point to try to teach them Algebra, because this is meant to add on and increase their knowledge. If a student cannot read, anything you teach him out of a book is completely lost, that child cannot even take a quiz or test without having it read to them.
Summer school and repeating the grade/class until mastered is the only way to ensure that there is possible success, for the child now and later in life.
Former High School teacher and current homeschool teacher

Blogger said...

Thanks for agreeing. But it's difficult to understand what's happening in ones local schools. There may apparently be excellent procedures in place to identify failing students, offer them summer help, evaluate the result of that help, and provide that result to parents and teacher. However, parents or student may refuse the summer help, and even if it is accepted and the evaluation is provided, apparently the parent can insist that the student be promoted, even though indications are he/she should not be.

And in fact the net result of the procedures described above is that perhaps half of students leave high school without the basics of English and Math.

Anonymous said...

It would seem to me that one of the problems with holding a student back is the social stigma of the situation. How do you face classmates that are now ahead of you in school? Even worse, what if you have to take classes with the same teachers using the same methods that failed to get through last year?

Is there a way to facilitate these failing students getting back on track by:

a) Transferring them away from the distraction of classmates that may have a negative current or future impact.

b) Take time to assess individual students learning styles and match them with teachers that teach to that particularly learning style.

c) Providing workshops and/or materials to parents to help them take a more active role in their children's education. This should include helping parents get G.E.D. or community college education to lead their families out of educational ghettos.


Blogger said...

I like your questions and suggestions. Here are my answers:

Social stigma is a problem, but it is also a motivator. And once we're taking steps to avoid Social Promotion, there will only be a few children who fail.

a) A transfer is certainly possible, and the principal and parent should have that as an option.

b) Part of the solution to this problem is to improve teachers' skills (see the Teachers part of this blog).

c) Education of parents is something that hadn't occurred to me. But it seems perhaps that should not be the job of the School District, but rather of the community as a whole. I'll bet you're right, and the parents of many failing children don't themselves have a GED.

Monty said...

On July 2, 2009, there was a letter in the Albuquerque Journal from Ms Deborah Grant, who described herself as a teacher who has worked in a school which did not make Adequate Yearly Progress.

She said she has a very good idea why students are not learning. She made five comments:

1. "Attendance. On average I had 60% to 70% attendance. I had many days with less than 50% of my students in class...Bottom line, no child can learn if they do not attend school."

2. "Social Promotion. Children are passed to the next grade even though they failed that grade, because it hurts a child's self-image to repeat a grade. So a child proceeds to the next grade less and less able to do grade-level work. If a child can not do 4th grade work, why would you send them on to the 5th grade and think they will be able to do 5th grade work?"

3. "Reading. Literacy is the No. 1 indicator of academic success. Children who can't read fail in school. We need to look at states with high literacy raates and do what they are doing. If literacy is the most important variable, why don't we make it a priority?"

4. "Parent involvement. Teachers are only one part of the equation. I can't "fix" children. Do what the president suggests, turn off the television and take away their phones and i-pods, etc. When they need discipline, be the parent."

5. "Money alone is not a silver bullet".

She concludes by saying, "Teachers know why schools fail. Just ask us."

My comments on each point are:

1. Attendance. Kids aren't motivated to come to school, and parents aren't motivated to see that they attend, because they know kids'll pass on to the next grade whether or not they're in class. Getting rid of Social Promotion will help solve this problem.

But it's also a discipline problem. Schools generally have a document which states what will be done to maintain discipline in schools, and such documents tell what must be done to any student who misses school. Why aren't such procedures carried out in ABQ schools?

2. Social Promotion. This is the real problem. We'll never improve our schools until we promote kids only if they know the material in the grade.

Incidentally, the State of NM has a law which says a child can be 'socially promoted' only once, and then only if a parent requests it. The second year a child can't be promoted whatever his parents say. Why isn't this law obeyed in the ABQ schools?

3. Reading. A child should not be promoted if he or she can't read at his or her grade level. So this again is a social promotion problem.

4. Parent involvement. If we did not 'social promote', parents would be motivated to be sure their kids study. If kids pass whether or not they learn, why not let them watch TV, etc.

5. Money. I agree. it's not a silver bullet. The school system which spends more money per student than any district in the US is Washington, DC, which also is among the worst in student performance.