It’s that time of year when the school year is coming to yet another end. While some students exuberantly await the start of their summer vacation, others are scrambling, beseeching, and working hard at last to hopefully avoid summer school attendance or worse — getting retained in their current grade, otherwise known as “getting left back.”
For the most part, I am a proponent of retaining students in their current grade if they do not meet the academically required benchmarks for the next grade. Social promotion is very problematic because it gives students a false sense of safety, sending the message that they can do no work or substandard work all school year, turn some work in at the end of the eleventh hour that will count equally for all that they haven’t done, and somehow move ahead with those students that have actually earned the grade promotion. This might work from kindergarten through middle school but the real academic hiccup occurs when these students get to high school where passing classes, getting promoted to the next grade, and ultimately graduating are contingent on not only passing the classes but also, and equally as importantly, passing the Regents exams associated with those classes.
This concept, previously foreign, is extremely hard to grasp when students have been socially promoted for years prior to that.
The position I’m taking is based on my 11 years of teaching in urban schools across NYC and Long Island with the bulk of my service as a teacher being done in middle school. I’ve seen the detriment of social promotion. However, there is research out there that contests my position
RAND researchers examined New York City’s test-based grade promotion and retention policy, focusing on 5th-grade students. The findings show that the support services provided under the policy helped students meet promotion criteria and that, overall, few students were retained. Furthermore, those who were retained did not report negative socio-emotional effects. Some of the positive effects from the support services continued into later grades, leading the researchers to recommend a continued emphasis on early identification and support of at-risk students, as well as continued monitoring of the longer-term effects of retention.
Most schools do provide support. There is academic intervention before, during, and after school. Teachers even give up their lunch periods to support students in need. We can not force the students to attend, though. That’s where things start to fall apart. As educators, we can not be more invested in our students’ education than they are.
Where is the accountability? Where is the genuine interest in improving oneself? Where is the family and community involvement?
Students do not just miraculously pass classes and achieve academic success. There is a formula that is comprised of many ingredients that must all work together to achieve optimal results. The students’ own investment is crucial. Just passing them along is not helping them. It’s hurting them. We might not see it now, but the pitfalls of social promotion will manifest themselves eventually.
According to the Hechinger Report,
“More than four in 10 college students end up in developmental math and English classes at an annual cost of approximately $7 billion, and many of them have a worse chance of eventually graduating than if they went straight into college-level classes. Students of all races and income levels end up in developmental classes, but students of color like Gandy are significantly more likely than white students to end up in remediation. Low-income students also are more likely to be assigned to developmental classes.”
To promote or not to promote, that is the question. What say you?