Social promotion is alive and well

Most failing students are promoted to the next grade, despite laws and policies banning social promotion, reports Molly Callister on the Hechinger Report. Retention rates hovered around 2.7 percent from 1995 to 2005 and declined to 1.5 percent in 2009, according to a new study.

California’s education code says students must repeat the grade if they fail promotion “gates” at second, third, and fourth grades and eighth grade. “But there’s a catch, which exists in nearly all state retention laws: A student can be promoted if the teacher decides retention isn’t appropriate for that child,” writes Callister.

It’s better to promote failing students with their classmates, then provide extra support, says Arzie Galvez,a  Los Angeles Unified administrator.

Support may include taking double math or English, tutoring, help from aides,  summer school or credit recovery programs.

Retention doesn’t help because “the typical situation is to simply repeat a grade and not necessarily address the reasons a kid was failing in the first place,” says Russ Rumberger, professor of education at the University of California Santa Barbara.

But Marcus Winters, a professor of education at the University of Colorado, believes the extra help should be provided while the student repeats the grade.

Winters looked at retained students in Florida after a retention law was instituted in 2003. Winters narrowed the pool of students to those within a small margin both above and below the cutoff for retention, which he said was basically the difference of one or two problems on the state standardized test.

Students below the cutoff were retained and given extra support during the following year, while students above were moved on to the next grade.

“We found that the kids who received this retention and remediation treatment in third grade, there’s big positive immediate effect in those first couple of years,” Winters said. “That effect tended to fade a little bit over time, but even by the time they were in the seventh grade there was still a pretty large — not only statistically significant but really meaningful — positive effect from receiving that treatment in third grade.”

Florida’s retention rates jumped nearly a third in the 2002-2003 school year, but retention rates have fallen back to the old level.

Alberto Cortes fell behind in math, repeated fourth grade at his Los Angeles school and continued to fail, Callister reports. Expelled from his middle school in seventh grade, he persuaded the new school to skip him into eighth grade with students his own age. He failed in high school and dropped out.

Now 16, he meets one-on-one with a teacher through an alternative education program. He’s on track to graduate in the next year and a half.

“I do want to get at least my bachelor’s and my master’s,” Cortes said. “I want to do something in the medical business. But at (the time I dropped out) I always thought that I was going to end up in jail someday.”

I hate to see kids with dreams totally unconnected to reality. If he prepared to qualify for a medical technician program at his local community college, he might have a shot at “the medical business.”

Study: Social promotion hurts students

Florida students who repeated a grade in elementary school outperformed similar students who were promoted, even after five years, according to a new study in Education Finance and Policy by Jay Greene and Marcus Winters.

The benefits of ending social promotion “diminish, but they remain statistically significant and educationally substantial through middle school,” Greene writes.

Study: Retention works in Florida

Flunking works in Florida, concludes Marcus Winters, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and an assistant professor at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. To pass from third to fourth grade, students must pass a test. Those who are held back “eceive a rigorous remediation regime aimed at improving their long-term performance.”

By studying the long-term performance of children who just barely passed the test, as well as those who were just barely left behind, it was possible to compare two essentially identical populations: one set of students who moved forward despite only borderline understanding of the material; and another set who stayed behind a year and received tutoring, mentoring, and other remedial interventions.

On average, the students who were remediated did better academically, in both the short and long term, than those who were promoted. Tellingly, the benefits of the remediation were still apparent and substantial through the seventh grade (which is as far as the data can be tracked at this point).

Previous research has found “strong negative consequences” for retention, Winters concedes. He thinks prior studies have used flawed methods.

I’d like to know more about what Florida does for kids who are held back.

I’m tutoring a first grader who’s having a lot of trouble with reading. The teacher thinks she should repeat the grade — she’s one the younger kids — but school policy forbids it because English is the girl’s second language.

Should low achievers be held back?

Should low-achieving kids be promoted or held back?  The research isn’t clear, writes Daniel Willingham.

Until recently, comparisons of kids who were promoted and kids who were retained indicated that retention didn’t seem to help academic achievement, and in fact likely hurt. So the best practice seemed to be to promote kids to the next grade, but to try to provide extra academic support for them to handle the work.

But new studies indicate that academic outcomes for kids who are retained may be better than was previously thought, although still not what we would hope.

I wonder if anyone’s studied the effects of social promotion on teachers.

Detroit: D’s and F’s turned to C’s

Students who’d earned D’s and F’s were given C grades on their June report cards, charges a Detroit teacher.  The Detroit Free Press reports:

Science teacher Marjorie Pasqualle struggled in her classroom at Detroit’s Durfee Elementary last year — and so did her sixth- and seventh-grade students.

She endured taunts and threats, one student slapped her face and, in a chaotic atmosphere where students weren’t learning, she turned in 94 D’s and F’s for June report cards, records show.

But documents also show that the bad grades Pasqualle gave to students were changed to C’s on report cards and computerized student records — and without her consent, she said.

Rated “unsatisfactory” for poor class control and incomplete lesson plans, Pasqualle, 62, retired at the end of the year after 9 1/2 years in the classroom. The district is investigating the grade-changing allegations. Tracy Johnson, principal at Durfee Elementary, denies authorizing changes.

Pasqualle is not the only teacher to complain that failing grades are raised to make low-performing schools look better and to avoid retaining students in the same grade.

Teacher Mary Helen D’Angelo said a principal passed about three dozen fifth-graders who failed the MEAP test and her summer math class in 2009. “She told me, ‘It must’ve been something wrong with your teaching,’ ” D’Angelo recalled recently. “They came to me with second-grade skills.”

Altering records is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $2,500, up to two years in jail and suspension of a teaching certificate. Robert Bobb, emergency financial manager for DPS, vows to fire anyone who changes a grade without the teacher’s consent. Bobb signed an order last year declaring an end to social promotion. Staff training will follow, he told the Free Press.

Teachers and union officials say there’s heavy pressure to pass students along.

In 2009, Bobb fired 33 principals at low-performing schools. In 2010, he replaced the principals and staffs at most of the 51 lowest-performing schools.

Teacher Tracy Arneau said she failed four first-graders in 2006 who were struggling readers, but the principal promoted them to second grade anyway. By fall, two of the students were placed back in first grade because they were struggling.

“They weren’t successful, fluent readers,” she said. “Passing them was a disservice to the children, the next teacher and the next class. Everybody loses.”

Pasqualle submitted computerized grade sheets in the spring that contained 68 F’s and 26 D’s. All were changed to C’s. The grades in prior marking periods — often D’s and F’s — were blanked out.

As a result, a student who’d missed 20 days of class in the semester and another who’d missed 39 days in the school year were given C grades.  So did a straight F student with 37 absences who’s accused in a police report of assaulting Pasqualle.

Florida-style school reform

Florida’s education reforms are working, writes Jeb Bush, the former governor, in the Wall Street Journal.

In 1998, nearly half of Florida’s fourth-graders were functionally illiterate. Today, 72% of them can read. Florida’s Hispanic fourth-graders are reading as well or better than the average student in 31 other states and the District of Columbia. That is what I call a real game-change.

Florida grades schools on a scale of A to F, based solely on standardized test scores, Bush writes.

When we started, many complained that “labeling” a school with an F would demoralize students and do more harm than good. Instead, it energized parents and the community to demand change from the adults running the system. School leadership responded with innovation and a sense of urgency. The number of F schools has since plummeted while the number of A and B schools has quadrupled.

Florida also ended “social” promotion for third-grade students who couldn’t read.

Holding back illiterate students seemed to generate a far greater outcry than did the disturbing reality that more than 25% of students couldn’t read by the time they entered fourth grade. But today? According to Florida state reading tests, illiteracy in the third grade is down to 16%.

Florida schools that earn an A or improve by a letter grade get a cash bonus.

Parents who aren’t satisfied with a failing school can choose another district-run public school, a charter school, a virtual school or a tax-credit scholarship to a private school. Vouchers provide choices for pre-K students and students with disabilities.

According to the National Assessment of Education Progress, Florida’s Hispanic and black students are showing remarkable progress.

Jeb Bush’s influence on education policy is spreading, writes Ed Week. The former governor has an education foundation.

Repeat performance

Social promotion is less common at high-performing charter schools, writes Sarah Garland in The American Prospect.

In keeping with their focus on rigorous academics and accountability, many charter schools have adopted strict “retention” policies requiring struggling students to repeat a grade when they don’t meet expectations, sometimes even if they’re just a point shy of passing.

. . . Charter-school advocates say this allows them to help students who are far below grade level to catch up. It may also give charters an edge over regular public schools on test scores.

Students who are held back rarely catch up, according to education research.  Often they repeat the classroom experience that didn’t work the first time. Charter leaders say they provide extra help to enable students to succeed.

Charter students facing retention sometimes return to district-run schools that will place them in the next grade.

Gary Miron, a Western Michigan University researcher who studies charter schools, says the retention policies of charter schools may sound good, but they “could be a mechanism to have the weaker kids go back to traditional public schools.”

But (Stanford researcher Margaret) Raymond says her studies have found that students who leave a school rather than be retained are less likely to be minorities or on free or reduced-price lunch, suggesting that it’s the more affluent parents who worry about the stigma of repeating a grade.

In my book, Our School, I write about a San Jose charter high school’s struggle to prepare students — most from low-income and working-class Mexican immigrant families — for college success. Because of social promotion in their K-8 years, Downtown College Prep students start ninth grade with fifth- or sixth-grade reading, writing and math skills, on average. They need time to learn the skills and work habits that will let them do college-prep work and go on to earn a college degree. Pushing everyone through in four years is a guarantee of failure.

Via HechingerEd.

Follow Florida

To reduce the achievement gap, follow Florida’s example, write Matthew Ladner and Lindsey Burke on National Review Online, who look at the Sunshine State’s remarkable progress on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

After a decade of K–12 education reform, Florida’s minority students — both Hispanics and blacks — have outscored the average student (minority and non-minority) in many other states.

Florida parents have a range of choices, they write, including charter schools, vouchers for special-needs students, education tax credits and online learning options.  enjoy more educational options than those in any other state.

Students in third grade through tenth are tested in reading and math. “Policymakers have periodically raised their standards, and students have demonstrated that they can reach tougher goals.” Schools are graded on an A-to-F scale, which parents can understand.

Florida also implemented alternative teacher certification and a limited pay-for-performance program and, importantly, ended social promotion. If Johnny cannot read in third grade, he will no longer automatically advance to fourth grade. He will retake third grade with extra help.

Florida adopted a tougher version of No Child Left Behind, they write.  The state’s Hispanic and black students are the beneficiaries.

Detroit bans social promotion

Robert Bobb, emergency financial manager of Detroit Public Schools, has banned social promotion “to the outrage of Detroit school board members who called it a political ploy in the midst of a court battle between Bobb and the board over academic control of the district,” reports the Detroit News.

A complete ban on social promotion would affect a whole lot of students.

The district caught national attention in December when its fourth-graders came in last in the nation on the National Assessment of Education Progress with scores that were the lowest recorded in the history of the prestigious exam.

There’s “no uniform or effective strategy” to deal with failing students, says Barbara Byrd-Bennett, DPS emergency academic officer.  Some are held back at least once. Others are moved on without the skills they need. Bobb worries most about eighth graders who aren’t ready for high school.

But retaining students is expensive — and often unhelpful if they simply repeat what didn’t work the year before. Intervening to get struggling students up to speed costs money too. The district is broke as well as broken.