Social promotion doesn’t work, writes Arthur Levine, president of Teachers College at Columbia, in the New York Times. Neither does flunking students. “Research on the subject is clear: neither social promotion nor holding back students works,” Levine writes. “Leaving students back increases their dropout rate, while using the same methods to teach them the subjects they failed to master the first time does not help them progress. Socially promoted students, meanwhile, are unable to learn more advanced material in the next grade and are more likely to become disruptive, diminishing their classmates’ ability to learn as well.” He advocates flexibility.
There are three steps the school system could take that might quell this fruitless debate and help our children. First, starting from the first days in a classroom, schools could assess all students’ skills – moving ahead students who are beyond their grade level and providing additional instruction to students who are behind. Second, the system could create transitional classes between grades. Thus, the student who would ordinarily be left back in third grade, say, would move into an intermediary third-fourth grade in which the focus would be on remediation in areas of weakness and building on subjects already mastered, instead of repeating the entire grade. Third, the school system could extend the school day or academic year for all students, allowing advanced students to take enrichment classes and lagging students to do additional work in areas in which they learn more slowly.
If we abandon grouping students by age and grade, fast learners might finish school in 10 years; slow learners might need 14 years.
Education Gadfly likes the idea, but says it needs to be backed by “high standards, rigorous assessment, and strict results-driven accountability.”