Pass or Fail: Effective Education Policies to Respond to Social Promotion and Retention

In this multi-part series, I provide a dissection of the phenomenon of retention and social promotion. Also, I describe the many different methods that would improve student instruction in classrooms and eliminate the need for retention and social promotion if combined effectively.

While reading this series, periodically ask yourself this question: Why are educators, parents and the American public complicit in a practice that does demonstrable harm to children and the competitive future of the country?

Are the very policies put in place to “help” students actually hurting them?

If a student experiences retention or social promotion, the policies themselves do not help to reverse poor academic performance. Retention prevents a student from having to take on more of an educational challenge. In that respect, it is reactionary. It does nothing to address the student’s initial failings at his or her current grade level. The same is true of social promotion.

An effective alternative strategy must be able to provide comprehensive support for academic, social, emotional, and psychological needs of students, along with clear and measurable goals and objectives for students, teachers, administrators, and parents.

In a brief on the issues raised by the No Child Left Behind Act, Garcia considers the factors that might if effectively implemented, have assisted with the success of states’ educational reforms. He looks closely at addressing the need for a coherent testing program and managing trade-offs between the high expectations of students and the high numbers of low-performing schools.

Garcia outlined the need to lead educational policy with standards rather than tests, and to have a system in place to ensure the quality of all tests, particularly with respect to alignment with state standards. He also outlined the need to establish an anchor for proficiency at the end of high school that would help students to be prepared for college and high-growth careers. He considered the creation of college-ready and high-growth career-ready students to be the point at which school policies should aim, with standards and expectations mapped backward to set expectations for earlier grades.

Targeting responses was another strategy that Garcia thought would be helpful to low-performing schools. He also recommended establishing categories for poor performance and distinguishing the most academically needy schools, targeting the most substantial assistance or interventions to those schools with the lowest performance rates.

Sustaining public support amid expanded testing and accountability will inevitably help to make schools more successful. Making state testing and accountability systems as transparent as possible and fostering a third-party organization to mount a sustained public engagement campaign, as Garcia suggests, would prove useful in addressing some of the main challenges to the application of effective academic standards and the supporting of all students to achieve exceptional academic results.

There are, however, at least two distinct types of strategies when it comes to educational reform. First are the strategies designed to bring about improvement by improving the education and standards in a broad way. Most of the strategies outlined by Garcia fall into this first category, and they apply to a range of aspects of the education system.

The second category targets the grading system. The grading system, after all, is the basis for retention and social promotion. Alternatives include a system allowing for varied academic assessments, or one offering a different system for academic progression, one that does not rely on graded knowledge and skills testing like our current system.

Click here to read all my suggestions for alternatives to social promotion and retention.


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