Pass or Fail: Supporting Teachers to Enhance Educational Value

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?

How do we support teachers to help them achieve the level of competency required in America today? Are we doing enough to support what we expect them to accomplish?

As part of the third-year evaluation activities, one study asked a group of lead teachers to indicate what they valued most in the ORSI effort to enhance teacher experiences and provide supports.

According to the results, teachers most valued informative professional development that they could take back and incorporate into their classrooms. They also reported valuing the experience of being treated like professionals because it helped them to change practices in classrooms when improvements were needed. The study also indicated that teachers valued being part of a network, being able to share information with other professionals to discuss practices that could improve student learning.

When forced to accept a new curriculum and make difficult changes in instructional approach, teachers most valued having access to support groups and workshops on the aspects of effectively teaching new material, especially math and science topics. Listening to nationally recognized trainers were also said to make a positive difference when it was necessary to adopt a new curriculum and make difficult changes in approach.

In other words, teachers value support from the institution of education itself. They also value the opportunity to be exposed to information on best practices for teaching and for information about curricula and standards. Allowing teachers to understand why the system expects them to teach certain knowledge and skills helps them to be more effective at their jobs.

Strategies such as providing regional networking and direct assistance to schools also helped remove the isolation and access issues for teachers looking to acquire new skills. Access to information, including hands-on materials, information on teaching strategies about advanced content, and opportunities to work with other teachers on the same grade level emerged as important support strategies. Teachers also value the administrative support of principals and superintendents who can pass along useful, research-based information.

According to the ORSI, most school administrators strongly supported requests of teachers to attend regional trainings that promise to improve skills in raising student achievement in math and science. One third-grade teacher reported that “ORSI professional development targets specifically the programs we use, and recommends practices for teaching more effectively within those programs.”A fifth-grade teacher indicated that “professional development opportunities now are convenient and well-publicized within our school. We are now encouraged to attend professional development.”

Adequate supports like these help ensure that teachers are consistently able to set students at the center of instruction, helping teachers to guide students and implement practices that enhance and fine-tune the teaching of the individual child instead of the class. Entire districts can benefit when school and district leaders allow teachers to examine curricula and learn new teaching practices by networking with their colleagues.

Pass or Fail: Effective Teachers Instead of Retention and Social Promotion

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?

What if the tools to eliminate retention and social promotion already exist in our classrooms?

What if all we need are more effective teachers?

Given their centrality to the student’s learning experience and to the management of education as a whole, it’s obvious why effective teachers form the most important alternative to retention and social promotion policies. With qualified, competent teachers, most students exhibiting learning difficulties should nonetheless be able to achieve enough academic progress to warrant advancement to the next grade. Indeed, what this conclusion might indicate is that there should be some internal streaming within grades of the American education system.

Students struggling with literacy or math skills could be streamed into a specific classroom either for a specific grade or for the teaching of a specific subject. The focus of the teaching could be to address the specific challenges experienced by the individual learner, to essentially teach to the student, to interpret standards and expectations for the particular student, and to play to their strengths and target their weaker areas for development.

According to Bellanca, the most successful attempts to teach for intelligence entail several basic assumptions. First, teachers must acknowledge that traditional methods for teaching are not always wrong. There are, Bellanca suggests, many high-achieving students who thrive under the traditional approach to teaching and many typical students or low-achieving students who can improve under a more traditional teaching focus. The key is that traditional methods are inadequate for many students who are less achievement-driven.

Because all students are expected to learn a specific curriculum, it is important that all students have the opportunity to be taught in a manner that enriches their learning. This applies to high achievers as well as to those who struggle academically. When faced with a less motivated student, however, a teacher must be able to develop a strategy to target their specific needs. Individual teachers must have a greater repertoire of methods.

More than this, best teaching practices should concentrate on building new theories of intelligence. Teachers should be familiar with new theories of intelligence and be able to build on them in their teaching practices. We do not have the space in this volume to elaborate on specific theories, but it is appropriate to mention Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, Robert Sternberg’s theory of successful intelligence, Daniel Goleman’s theory of emotional intelligence, and Reuven Feuerstein’s theory of structural cognitive modifiability.

The second point is that the public education system should encourage teachers to regard the process of teaching as a strategic act of engagement, consistent with new theories of intelligence that identify active engagement of students’ minds as a prerequisite for learning. Indeed, teachers have support to apply planning as a means of facilitating the effective application of proven engagement strategies. By regarding teaching as a strategic act, teachers can go about the designing lessons and units that integrate a variety of strategies with targeted content so that each student understands the required knowledge and develops the required skills.

Third, teachers have to understand that it takes more than a review of theoretical information to change teaching practices. Continuing education for teachers is crucial but it must include more than theoretical discussions. There must be some effort for teachers to learn to apply new teaching strategies in the classroom, with guidance to ensure that best practices are actually achieved. In other words, the education system should develop scenarios for teachers to receive regular practical training in addition to theory-based continuing education instruction.

Finally, teachers must also be aware that changing their teaching style or otherwise enhancing it is also going to require, in most instances, that students make changes in their own learning styles. Indeed, when teachers encounter students who are struggling academically, the need to change learning styles may be very immediate. It should, however, be recognized that changing learning styles can be extremely challenging for students. Especially when teachers are making changes to their teaching, it is important for them to be aware that the change process has equally significant ramifications on the student’s side of the desk.

Beginning from an abstract, theoretical point of view and using that to construct a framework or big picture may work in some classroom scenarios. On the other hand, starting with a hands-on classroom test of a new method may be the best approach, and will allow students to be involved in the subsequent evaluation.

As alternatives to retention and social promotion, effective teachers function as the most immediate tools available to the education system in terms of identifying at-risk students and applying all that is known about education and teaching strategies and the capacity to adjust teaching models and the like. This could help at-risk students to master the knowledge and skills needed for them to be able to successfully meet standards for graduation. Like any tool, however, teachers need effective handling as well. They need to receive regular training updates, access to research information, and access to networking opportunities.

Four “Not to Miss” Education Conferences for EdTech Leaders

The field of education has a plethora of conferences and assemblies where educators and industry leaders gather to learn about emerging developments, instructional trends and market disruptors. If you are interested in attending a highly beneficial education conference to share, learn, and find new solutions to current challenges, consider these four “not to miss” conferences that stand out with effective programming and networking opportunities.

  1. The EdNET Conference – September 17-19, Scottsdale, AZ

Hosted by MDR, EdNET2017 provides senior executives from PreK-12 education companies the latest information on market trends, business partnering opportunities, funding sources, new technologies, and activities for key market players.

Now in its 29th year, EdNET is a business-to-business leadership forum, with peer-to-peer interaction. The conference  attracts senior personnel responsible for marketing, sales, business development and strategic initiatives, as well as top management from all industry sectors selling products and services to U.S. schools, including nonprofits and consumer goods.

Speakers include influential voices in education, such as representatives from innovative corporate players, education-focused investment and analyst groups, education institutions, education administrators and policy makers.

EdNET provides a forum for discussion and an opportunity for senior executives to consider not only the market they are currently working in, but also where the industry is headed. It has brought together top executives of companies whose products and services for schools constitute the most important source of instructional and assessment resources available to schools in America and beyond.

This year’s programming is built from conversations with an Industry Advisory Board, and leaders from various segments of the education industry. These Board members identify critical issues in the market, from both the business and customer perspective, and help to shape the topics, speakers and presentations of highest interest. This is one of the most well-established and well-attended educational industry conferences of the year. For more information, click here to visit the conference site.

  1. The iNACOL Symposium – October 23-25, Orlando, Florida

The iNACOL Symposium is sponsored by the nonprofit organization iNACOL, and it focuses on the education of children in grades K through 12. This conference is designed for anyone within the education field, whether a teacher, professor or administrator.

In addition to the opportunity to develop your network, the symposium offers a broad range of topics to help you explore new ways of teaching. There are over 200 sessions covering a wide variety of issues that fall one of the following foci:

  • Personalized learning
  • Policies
  • Competency education
  • Blended and online learning
  • iNACOL national quality standards

It is the kind of event that you must attend to get a real understanding of the scope and breadth of knowledge that is on display. You can check out the areas being highlighted at the symposium to see if they are covering a particular field. If you are interested in setting up an exhibition, they are still accepting applications.

While there are still months before the event, there are already several hashtags associated with it. You can post some of your own ideas or look up what others are saying with the hashtags #Policymakers and #Edleaders. You can also follow details about the symposium and other news and events by iNACOL by following @nacol on Twitter.

  1. DevLearn 2017 – October 25-27, Las Vegas, Nevada

If you are actively involved in using technology to help students learn, this is a conference you need to add to your calendar. The entire event is dedicated to different learning technologies and how they can best be used to enhance the learning experience. Sponsored by the eLearning Guild, you will have three days devoted to technology in education. You can speak with some of the leaders in the industry or share ideas with others who are enthusiastic about what technology can do to help students perform better both in the classroom and outside it.

You can follow the latest news and information on Twitter @eLearningGuild.

  1. ExcelinEd’s National Summit on Education Reform – November 30-December 1, Nashville, TN

To round out the year, you can go to the National Summit hosted by ExcelinEd for a look at ways to improve and reform the American education system. The focus goes beyond the classroom and examines how state and local policymakers and advocates can keep up with the latest trends to help students get ahead in their education. Some of the conference’s primary focus include the following:

  • Holding schools accountable for learning
  • Creating incentives for students to achieve more
  • Using technology to improve and customize education based on the student
  • Expanding the options for students and parents

By focusing on these details before the holiday season, you can establish some resolutions to help improve the way you, the local government, and the state approach education. To stay current on the latest news and changes to the event, you can follow the event on Twitter @ExcelinEd.

Final Thoughts

As the field of education continues to evolve at a furious pace, the need to assemble and share our thoughts and best practices is more important than ever. The conferences that were discussed in this piece are just a sample menu of all the valuable and relevant gatherings that will take place this fall. Our hope is that it provides a starting place for educational professionals that are planning to attend a conference in the near future.










Pass or Fail: Is Testing a Valid Way to Measure Student Progress?

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?

What if the measures we use to determine passing or failing grades are completely skewed? Is standardized testing, or any testing for that matter, the right way to determine student progress?

For obvious reasons, one of the first and most significant concerns for the application of standardized tests is that they are not consistent with the standards for fair and appropriate testing. Of course, educators must first define the standards themselves, and demonstrate them to be relevant. In this instance, we are referring to the standards for fair and appropriate testing as defined by the NRC Report, which says that measurement validity refers to the extent to which evidence supports a proposed interpretation and use of test scores for a particular purpose.

For instance, a measurement validity of the reading section of the SAT I standard test would be assessed to have a reasonable validity for assessment of an individual’s reading comprehension skills, knowledge of grammar rules, and ability to make inferences from texts. The use of scores from this test to determine an individual’s preparedness for entry into a particular college program would also be reasonably good. The component of appropriate testing usually overlaps with this second issue of validity, too, which the NRC Report Standards also outlines, and which is backed up by the findings of various other organizations.

To go back to the more formal parameters, the general rule is that the internal structure of the test, the content of the test, the relationship of the test to other criteria, and the psychological processes and cognitive operations used by the examinee in responding to the test items must all support the purpose of the test.

A test assessing knowledge and skill should target the knowledge and skills specifically; looking, as well, to ensure that the knowledge and skills being assessed are those that have been obtained from appropriate instruction. In some instances, knowledge might depend on poor instruction or on factors that are unrelated to the skills under review. For instance, a student might score poorly on the SAT reading test because their teachers didn’t transfer the necessary knowledge and skill (the students may not have received the targeted knowledge of proper grammar, for instance, or they have received inadequate instruction on how to read critically).

Another example would be that an individual might score badly on the SAT reading test not because they lack reading comprehension skills that the test intends to assess but because they have significant language barriers or because there are cultural differences that have some bearing on the test. For instance, a passage in American history that is being read for comprehension but that in some way relies upon presupposed knowledge of American history or customs might be problematic and undermine the validity and fairness of tests scores, undermining the attribution of cause.

Disabilities can also factor as an issue for the attribution of cause. Several types of cognitive or even physical disabilities can undermine an individual’s performance in a testing scenario without appropriate interventions provided to support the student’s exceptionalities.

In the context of K-12 assessments, the cause component also influences the extent to which students receive adequate opportunity to learn the material for the test. Adequate quality and quantity of instruction become important, as does the alignment of test content and curriculum.

Students need adequate opportunity within the testing scenarios to demonstrate their knowledge. If tests contain irrelevant language or content, for instance, students may not have adequate opportunity to perform and test developers will have compromised the fairness and relevance of the test.

Furthermore, many of the criteria for fairness in testing standards overlap with attribution of cause. In the Standards, overlapping elements include the investigation of bias and differential item functioning, determining whether construct-irrelevant variance differentially affects different groups of examinees, and equal treatment during the testing process.

Circular validity lies within the cause component in the sense that it relates to the alignment between test content and the curriculum taught in class. Chapter 13 of the Standards determines that “There should be evidence that the test adequately covers only the specific or generalized content and skills that students have had an opportunity to learn.”

This goes beyond the criteria outlined here and applies to a broader interpretation of opportunity to learn; one that is not restricted to curricular validity but also inclusive of the consideration of instructional quality as a predictor of student test scores.

Certain polices within the K-12 setting make high-stakes student decisions dependent upon evidence that the student has the educational experience and opportunity to acquire relevant knowledge and skill. Where students have lacked sufficient opportunity to acquire desired skills in an educational context, they may not meet the criteria for grade promotion or graduation.

At the same time, though, it is hardly fair that the student be held accountable for the deficit in their learning. At what point do we say: this portion of education is the responsibility of the schools, of the system and the stakeholders, not just the individual student?

The effectiveness of treatment is the final component of the fair and appropriate test criteria, relating to whether test scores lead to consequences that are educationally beneficial in a given context. Consequences could include placement in a particular academic grouping based on ability or advancement from one level of learning to a higher level based on test achievement. Accountability plays a part here, too, as the criteria for effective treatment determines that it is inappropriate to use tests to make placements that are not educationally beneficial.

When tests are used in placement decisions, they must be fair and appropriate. Students must be “better off in the setting in which they are placed than they would be in a different available setting.” With all of these factors in mind, though, can testing ever truly be trusted as a placement option for students?

Pass or Fail: Teacher Effectiveness as Prevention

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?

Retaining or socially promoting a student takes a simplistic approach to education that is outdated and harmful. Finding alternatives to avoid both is imperative and entirely possible in today’s educational climate. Perhaps the most influential alternative to social promotion and retention is effective teaching and teachers who are willing to go the extra mile to make sure students are up to speed.

Some teachers may need professional development to help them diversify their approach to meet the instructional needs of lower performing students. Protheroe points to examples like the Metro Nashville Public Schools, who have established a comprehensive program for professional development, supporting veteran and, especially, new teachers who serve in high-poverty areas. The program includes work on the so-called Ruby Payne Framework to improve teacher understanding of poverty. There is also, according to Holt and Garcia, some important training with differentiated instruction and the Dignity with Discipline program.

Buena Vista Elementary, which is under the Metro Nashville umbrella, is a striking example of the success of these types of involvements. The school is just a few miles from downtown Nashville, in an area plagued by poverty and underdevelopment. A third of the students are homeless and live in one of the numerous shelters nearby. Violence is common, and almost all of the students receive free or reduced-fee lunches.

Despite the inherent difficulties of running a school in such a disadvantaged area, Buena Vista is a vibrant and thriving environment. Every student has a netbook, and there is an iPad for every two students. There are two teachers for every classroom (one is usually a student teacher on a paid placement), as well as a highly qualified phalanx of support staff on call.

The principal, Michelle McVicker, is focused on raising the students’ math and language arts skills. She ensures that each student has a goal and knows what he or she is working toward. “You should be able to ask any student what his or her math and reading goals are and get an answer,” she says and demonstrates that she means it by pulling a student out of a classroom and eliciting the answers.

In the “War Room,” every student’s goal, as well as their current data status, is captured and posted on a wall, with color charts indicating which ones are still in need of help, from blue (advanced), through green (proficient) and yellow (basic), to below basic (red). Two years ago, Buena Vista was considered a failing school. Nearly every card was in the red zone.

McVicker was hired and given free rein to acquire the tools she needed to get the school out of the red. Some of these were technological – as well as computers, classes use Smart Boards and projectors – but she also hired a fresh crew of teachers, commenting: “Because my teachers are all new, they have no bad habits to break.”

The majority of the cards in the War Room are now in the green and yellow zone. The turnaround is well under way.

Protheroe discusses changes to grouping practices and considers how some schools have moved toward increased use of multiage classrooms, with students of different ages grouped together in the classroom to enable continuous progress rather than have to worry about promotion year to year. Specific strategies include interventions to accelerate learning, such as strategies to help students “double-dose” in reading and math instruction to address the problem associated with providing remediation.

Protheroe suggests identifying struggling students and focusing attention on them early, doing whatever can be done to extend learning time, and taking a student’s socio-economic status into consideration when working with them. Beyond these measures, Protheroe also identifies extended learning time as an alternative to retention. Roderick, Engel, and Nagaoka reference the comprehensive evaluation conducted at Chicago Public Schools via the Summer Bridge program. This program found that test scores improved among third, sixth, and eighth graders.

The largest gains were among the sixth and eighth graders. A total of ninety hours of instruction were offered at summer school for third through sixth graders: three hours per day for six weeks. Eighth graders received 140 hours of instruction, attending four hours per day for seven weeks. Evaluations also identified several factors that were associated with larger gains, such as assigning students to teachers who had worked with them before. Teachers reported being more likely to adapt the curriculum to meet the needs of the individual student since they were better informed of those needs.

Researchers studying this and other similar afterschool programs have determined that such systems for additional instruction tend to be more successful when there is a careful assessment of the individual student needs and designing of instruction to address those needs. Afterschool and regular day teachers were better able to support students when they communicated with each other about progress and problems.

At the same time, it is also important that the staff at afterschool programs have the knowledge to apply instructional strategies that support the student’s work efforts. Poggi notes that special professional development may well be required to provide this level of knowledge and skill to staff.

Interventions to accelerate learning are catalyzed by efforts to increase the effectiveness of teachers and extend learning time. Ultimately, a combination of these efforts proves most successful as a retention or social promotion alternative.

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

Pass or Fail: Mentoring To End 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?

When parents aren’t able to bridge the gap at home when it comes to education, strong mentors can make a difference in how much students learn.

Emma came from a low-income background and struggled with family issues. She joined a mentoring program and was partnered with Sarah. They have now been friends for more than 12 years. Though the inequality inherent in mentoring has been mentioned by some as problematic, in many cases mentoring can be life-changing. In the case of Emma and Sarah, the relationship was mutually beneficial. They would often go to the local Barnes & Noble, where they would sit under a brightly painted artificial tree and read to each other for hours.

Though the relationship was certainly effective in boosting Emma’s reading skills, it had other benefits as well. At one point, when Emma was six years old, she had to call 911 after her mother’s former boyfriend broke into the house. Sarah helped Emma deal with the call and the repercussions. Later, Emma chose to leave her father’s home, where she’d lived for twelve years, and move to her mother’s home two hours away. Sarah helped her in that decision and supported her in the move.

Sarah and Emma also have a lot of fun together, eating out and visiting amusement parks. These fun times do not, however, keep Sarah, the Director of Admissions at Vermont Commons School, from maintaining a focus on Emma’s schoolwork. Emma says, “Yeah, Sarah is always asking me about school and my homework. She always tells me that doing well in school and working toward my future are the most important things. She motivates me to do my best in school.” And this focus has worked: Emma is on the honor roll and has started looking at colleges.

The benefits go both ways. Sarah says, “I don’t have kids of my own, so I have been able to be a sort of second mom to Emma in a lot of ways. And she is just so amazing and fun to be with; I can’t imagine my life without her. My parents instilled in me the importance of giving back. And although I have been on many organizations’ boards over the years, being a mentor to Emma is without question the best thing I have ever done in my life.”

As the story of Emma and Sarah indicates, mentoring can have an enormous impact on the lives of disadvantaged students and those who mentor them. Karcher identifies mentoring as a process based on concepts of attachment theory – how individuals relate to one another and what sense of connection they have based on their relationship. The related concepts also provide evidence to demonstrate the extent to which mentoring can help reengage adolescents who have detached or disengaged from the educational process. Although counseling and mentoring need not be limited to adolescent students, we can assume this is the group most at risk.

Encouraging mentoring on school campuses is one strategy for reengaging adolescent students who have become disconnected from school due to a variety of experiences. The use of mentors should be given considerable weight among the supports that can help preclude the need for retention or social promotion.

A collaborative team within the school context can also help identify students who are not performing at grade level. The collaboration of a variety of stakeholders concerned about the welfare of individual students can identify struggling students sooner and trigger remedial interventions that can prevent damage from compounding itself. Wells et al. found that counselors accurately identified those students on a school campus who were at risk, and were able to determine those who might benefit from interventions. They emphasized, however, that the mere identification of struggling students was of little use in the absence of an intervention plan.

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


Pass or Fail: Alternative Strategy Factors to the Pass/Fail System

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?

If previous efforts and employing one or another of the existing alternative strategies have not been effective, we’re left with this question: what can educators do to develop alternatives to retention and social promotion that will actually work?

Several key points emerge from the existing body of research. First and foremost, research shows that alternatives to grading, retention, and social promotion must represent a multi-stage process that has been carefully planned and tested. While this might seem obvious, especially the requirement that a strategy is carefully planned, we should remember the context in which retention and social promotion occurs, a context that includes significant historical dimensions.

Indeed, one need look no further than the Common Core Standards and one of the major complaints about them: that they are woefully under-tested and embody goals and that have little to do with the real educational needs of individual students.

A second key to developing an effective alternative is the identification of those factors that are most crucial to a successful education policy. What do we need to consider when choosing among alternative strategies? What does the research tell us about the most important elements to a strategy that would replace grading, retention, and social promotion?

Most studies of the effects of grade retention and social promotion are limited in one way or another. The statistical power of many such studies is limited by a small sample size. Even the larger studies are often hampered by inconsistencies in education policy or implementation that make it difficult to interpret the results.

Logic also plays a role in showing the problems with grade retention and social promotion, as well as in determining the basic elements of alternative education strategies for failing students. One of the first points to be addressed from the perspective of logic and common sense is the basis for assigning specific grades to student assignments. We should not only consider the grading process itself but, to gain a wider perspective, we should also consider the ultimate objective of the education system, as well as how we can determine whether that objective is being achieved.

Consider the individual that America’s public education system should be producing. What should that individual be prepared for? Why are they getting an education in the first place? And, as we have suggested already, the “why” should play a big part in determining the “how.”

Whatever we decide regarding the ultimate goals of the public education system, it is clear that students must be examined to determine the knowledge and skills that they have learned in school. We do need to test their readiness for college and employment. But the other side of this coin is that the education process must be capable of transferring knowledge and skills in targeted areas.

A successful educational system must not only address student weaknesses, ensuring at least a rudimentary understanding of mathematics, science, languages, literature, writing, and reading comprehension; it must also nurture individual strengths, giving students an opportunity to develop their unique interests and gifts in preparation for a productive career.

We must also consider the non-academic costs of retention and social promotion on students and the education system as a whole. Although they are inherently difficult to gauge, we know that grade retention and social promotion have impacts that are academic, social, economic, and even emotional in nature.

The American School Counseling Association (ASCA) has offered a model for managing grade retention and social promotion that concentrates on the psychosocial aspects of student learning.

The ASCA’s model for developing academic policies and is based on standards intended to be implemented by school counselors. The ASCA’s model assumes that educators would be more effective at bringing about educational reform if they were more aware of the psychosocial factors that impact students.

Recommendations for educators have included input and supports not only from school counselors but also from teachers, administrators, and parents. This is largely because of the recognized need for as many stakeholders as possible to collaborate in support of academically struggling students.

The ASCA identified many barriers to educational reform, including several that explain precisely why collaborative, comprehensive support strategies are needed to support struggling students. Barriers include family stressors, apathy towards school and potential personal success, academic deficiencies, disabilities, poor behavior to support educators’ efforts, and limited access to resources.

Awareness of barriers to academic success can translate into an awareness of strategies for providing support. For instance, educators are in a good position to be able to resolve academic problems in collaboration with students and parents; They can provide insight into learning strategies for the individual student that may help the to help themselves achieve academic success.

Research has shown that retention causes changes in the lives of adolescents who lack coping skills to recover from the experience itself. Indeed, pressures of certain life changes and life events can be the cause of academic struggles. The intertwining of problems inside and outside the schoolroom highlights the need for a comprehensive approach to supporting students. Bullying and teasing can impact retained or socially promoted students and create additional academic struggles. The development and implementation of a comprehensive guidance curriculum by school counselors can support struggling students and minimize the recourse to retention or social promotion.

The second standard of the ASCA model includes programs that address bullying and teasing of students. Such consideration should be an element of a viable strategy for reducing the need for retention or social promotion. Another suggestion from the ASCA is that educators become advocates for students at risk of retention. Effective educators can advocate for students by making other stakeholders in a school aware of particular struggles and the potential need for more significant supports in the classroom.

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

Pass or Fail: The Need for Alternative Strategies

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?

If we know that our current pass/fail system isn’t working well — for our students, teachers, families or communities — then what can we do to turn that tide?

Most of the alternatives to retention and social promotion are half measures that do not challenge the validity of the traditional concept of retention. Too many of the established alternatives merely try to mitigate impacts; retention and social promotion are retained as key elements of the educational system.

Difficult and changing ideas, including philosophies and opinions of educators and parents, have complicated the development of effective alternatives to retention and social promotion. Despite the available alternatives, retention, and social promotion remain among the most common strategies for managing academic performance in the current system.

One of the most significant problems with applying alternative strategies is that many are far from comprehensive or well thought out. Many existing alternatives do not show an awareness of the various stakeholders and their potential contributions to a student’s educational success. The fragmented nature of alternative strategies also tends makes it hard to understand the struggles of the individual student.

The so-called self-efficacy theory suggests that adolescents perceive their academic ability regarding their perception of their ability to accomplish tasks. The cognitive function of adolescents reflects the way individuals feel about themselves. Students who experience failure at school have a higher risk of self-efficacy, according to Bandura. There are various other theories, including the family systems theory, which can further explain the risks to adolescents regarding their families and their position in a system that can impact self-efficacy and academic performance.

Although counseling students can help to address problems of low self-esteem, related to poor academic performance, the best interventions do not typically involve parents because of the risk of disrupting the support system as a whole. Furthermore, supports targeting academic and even social needs tend to be limited in scope, largely because there are so many pieces to the puzzle. Most alternative supports are fragmented and limited in their availability because of the degree of specialization (for instance, the availability of resources for specialized instruction in certain areas, or for individualized counseling for students).

Identifying the problems of social promotion specifically, Labaree notes that social promotion lowers the promotional standards in schools. The National Commission on Excellence in Education suggests that this both reflects and encourages the general decline of standards in American society. Labaree also notes that within the school system, a policy of social promotion symbolizes a more general lack of commitment to student achievement.

Establishing low minimum achievement levels for promotion is also, Richard Ebel suggests, a factor that fosters lower achievement expectations. Lowering the “floor” for achievement tends to lower the “ceiling” as well. Perhaps inevitably, there are some who consider social promotion a form of academic dishonesty. It can lead to accusations that schools are rewarding students for lack of accomplishment, instilling an inflated sense of their capabilities and a poor appreciation of the importance of hard work.

Ebel suggests that more rigorous promotional standards are effective at motivating stakeholders to sustain efforts toward higher levels of achievement. Using different standards for promotion can, however, create its problems. For instance, promoting students based on age rather than demonstrated achievement creates significant differences in ability and application of students in different grades.

Disruption becomes more likely when a student perceives a risk of retention. This disruption can affect both the classroom and the student’s family. Academic problems can create severe familial tensions, and these tensions tend to be more pronounced for low-income single parent and minority families, thus becoming entwined with socioeconomic factors.

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

Pass or Fail: The Economic Cost of 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?

Repeating a grade is not that big of a deal, right? Think again! Both social promotion and retention has negative impact on the American economy and social services.

Grade repeaters are more likely to be on public assistance programs, unemployed, or imprisoned. Assessing family income for recent high school dropouts versus recent high school graduates, and looking in particular at households where students were still living at home, the median income for families of dropouts was $12,100, and the median for families of recent high school graduates was $22,700. For college-enrolled high school graduates, the median family income was $34,200.

Although these elements are not to be regarded as causal – low-income families causing dropouts or the need for retention or social promotion – these factors and statistics suggest that large numbers of dropouts come from single-parent households and households run by women. They indicate the social fallout of the education policy. That is, the current system cannot support at-risk students from families where there are challenges in addition to education.

Students who are retained or socially promoted tend to rely more heavily on social services. They usually earn less over the course of their lifetime than those who are not retained or socially promoted. The considerable long-term costs mean society must continue supporting affected students, rather than education serving its purpose and enabling individuals to be self-sufficient. Indeed, a study which examined the NCLB act, warned of a dropout crisis in the United States. The study determined that, every September, approximately 3.5 million young people in America are seen to enter the eighth grade, with roughly 505,000 of this number dropping out over the next four year, an average of more than 2,805 per day of the school year.

Individuals who drop out of school earn approximately $270,000 less than high school graduates over the course of working lives. Having a high school diploma rather than a skills assessment based on a minimum competency test, also helps to determine whether a person can obtain employment and how much money he or she stands to earn. In 1997, the employment rate of men in the twenty-five to thirty-four-year-old range who did not graduate high school was more than twice that of men who did graduate. Among women within that same age-range, the unemployment rate of those without diplomas was three times higher than those with diplomas.

Retention and social promotion policies tend to impact minority students disproportionately, as they are more likely to be retained or socially promoted and drop out of school. Policies of retention and social promotion potentially contribute to racial disparities. The same appears true for low-income families. Although the correlation between retention and social promotion and low-income families is not perhaps as definitive as the link between minorities and these policies, there is still an apparent link and basis for suggesting that there is a connection to poverty and both retention and social promotion policies.

The 21st century, however, is not the age of overt prejudices or even necessarily direct and transparent racial, social, or economic discrimination. The disparities that exist, some of which may be growing more extreme, remain rather well concealed. In structured systems like education, they often go unaddressed until the situation requires affirmative action. The obvious example with education is that the discrimination against a minority or impoverished student, or even one with a learning disability, occurs from the first day they enter the education system and carries on throughout their career.

Indeed, the discrimination remains in effect, largely unnoticed and undetected, until the affected individual is so severely impacted that he or she is unable to demonstrate appropriate understanding of materials that have been the emphasis of their curriculum for a year. There are also secondary costs related to the lack of academic achievement, which includes the individual’s lost interest in school and decreased potential to excel in a variety of areas not requiring demonstration of academic achievement.

Some quantitative assessment of performance of students, as well as educators, administrators, and schools, will always be necessary, and solutions will not be easy to develop or enact. The alternative strategies are complex and require flexible implementation to overcome the subtlety and variety of prejudices that exist. However, the potential of growing costs and the expansion of those costs justifies the efforts.

With the figures at hand, how can anyone suggest social promotion and retention positively impact our economy and society at large?

Pass or Fail: Social Promotion and Retention’s Effect on Families & Communities

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?

When a student is subjected to social promotion or retention, he or she is not the only one impacted. If your child was retained, what effect would it have on you, your family and community? Likely, your experiences would be drastically altered, often in quite negative ways.

Families impacted by retention and social promotion policies are disproportionately among already disadvantaged groups. One study identified that children from low-income families, English learners, and Latinos were significantly more likely to be retained than the more demographically “average” student.

Retention rates during the 2009–2010 school year demonstrate that retention is highest among traditionally disadvantaged minorities. Among those deemed most likely to suffer from low academic performance, the rates of retention for black and Hispanic students were 4.2 percent and 2.8 percent, respectively. Among white students, the rate was just 1.5 percent.

Not only are retention and social promotion policies perpetuating social inequalities, they are also enhancing tensions within families by creating the additional stress of academic challenges. Retention and social promotion, or even merely the threat of these practices, places considerable pressure on the individual student.

Among older students, these stresses come into play at a point at which there is naturally occurring strain already. However, even for kindergarteners, retention has been strongly linked to risk factors like poverty, low maternal education, single-parent status, minority status, English language learner (ELL) status, and male gender, with these factors, also associated with poor school readiness.

A study by Wei Wu, Stephen G. West, and Jan N. Hughes explored the relatively short-term and long-term effects of grade retention for first graders and tracked the growth potential in mathematics and reading achievement over four years. They found that there was a large multiethnic sample below the median in literacy at the school entrance, and analyzed the effects of retention on the group studied.

They found that retained children experienced a faster increase in the short term and a faster decrease in the long term in both mathematics and reading achievement than promoted children. Although this data can be difficult to contextualize, the study indicates that retained students are less successful in reading and mathematics than students who are not retained. Retention and social promotion can also exacerbate existing problems within the family structure, although researchers have not examined this thoroughly.

There has been a fair amount of research regarding relationships between families and schools and how, with the right approach, it can prove a key factor in determining the academic success of a student. Similarly, challenges in the relationship between family and school representatives undermine the potential of a student to excel academically. It may be too much to suggest that a problem relationship of this type has a negative impact on a student’s success, but there is certainly indirect evidence that issues undercut a student’s ability to thrive academically.

In the relationship between family and school, the problems of retention or social promotion are sizeable. From the perspective of family members, and parents, in particular, the risk of retention and social promotion is immensely stressful because of the perception that either one of these policies is indicative of a limited future for the affected child. At least in some cases, parents look at retention or social promotion as an indication that their child is either unlikely to ever thrive academically or that their child is not adequately supported by the education system.

Although there are numerous challenges and limitations impacting the process of assessing the costs of retention and social promotion, as we have seen, the general cost of these policies is apparent from the evidence that is available and from a certain logical analysis of the scenario.

The various stakeholders in education, including students, teachers, education policymakers, parents, and employers, are all undermined by the pass or fail mentality of the current system. We disconnect individual students because of these policies. Disconnection from themselves, education, fellow students, teachers and other educators, their families and eventually from the community at large occurs when retention and social promotion comes into play.

Could you handle your child being retained or socially promoted without the stress and consequences of this decision negatively impacting your family? If you answer yes, you’d find yourself in the minority.