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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Social promotion of non-readers isn't a kindness

Social promotion does struggling readers no favors, argues Mitch Daniels, former governor of Indiana and president emeritus of Purdue, in a Washington Post op-ed. Indiana improved reading achievement by establishing a third-grade "reading gate" in 2010, but exemptions rose after a union-funded candidate defeated the reformist state superintendent.

Photo: Mikhail Nilov/Pexels

"Those sending nonreading third-graders on to likely academic dead ends may believe they are protecting the little ones’ self-esteem, or otherwise doing the right thing," writes Daniels. "But the evidence says that social promotion is not merely educational malpractice, but a cruel policy that blights the future of young people, none more so than the most vulnerable."

Finally, in March, Indiana lawmakers passed legislation requiring "more early interventions and remedial efforts to reduce failure rates, and limiting schools’ leeway for ignoring the 'last resort' retention instruction," he writes. The bill overcame "opposition mobilized by the teachers unions and other members of Indiana’s educrat coalition."

"At least 16 state and D.C. have now enacted social promotion laws," writes Daniels. "The results have been positive, and swift." States including Florida, Alabama and Mississippi have become "national leaders in reading improvement."

Alabama is seeing a rise in third-grade reading scores, which means fewer students than expected are at risk of repeating the year. Those with low scores can go to a summer reading camp and take a second test.

Both Ohio and Indiana have "seen reading scores drop on NAEP, the 'nation’s report card,' even before the pandemic, then decline more after," writes Patrick O'Donnell on The 74. Both states now require teachers to use the "science of reading" for early instruction, but diverge on whether to hold back third-graders who don't read well or move them along. Ohio dropped mandatory retention just as Indiana reinstated it.

In 2023, 14,000 third graders in Indiana scored below proficient in reading, said Superintendent Katie Jenner. Nearly all moved on to fourth grade. “The students who are just moving on are never passing. Ever. Ever,” Jenner said. “It’s hard to say that, but it’s honest.”

Indiana will require more testing and help for struggling readers, "such as summer reading classes after second and third grade for students who are behind," writes O'Donnell.

Ohio will let district administrators and parents decide whether to retain or promote a student.

Research on the efficacy of third-grade retention is "mixed," but it's become a part of effective reading reforms in a number of states.

165 views3 comments


May 25

Social promotion is life-long sabotage. That this is true should not even be debatable. Being held back a year might hurt the ego, but never learning to read and/or do basic Math will hurt for a lifetime, if not remediated.


May 21

Teach them to read K-3, add a what I need 4-12, use UDL including assistive technology to make sure all have access to grade level work.


May 21

Who's benefitting from the perpetuation of a sub-literate underclass? And who's benefitting by NOT having to teach the slow learners? I smell rats.

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