As a former teacher, I along with other educators struggle with the topic of social promotion. In elementary schools, teachers identify students with difficulties within weeks of their arrival in their classrooms. Assessments are done and individual plans are created. These students receive additional help from their teachers, coaches, mentors, and paraprofessionals, but as work becomes harder and the achievement gap widens, students give up. Do we pass them on to the next grade, or give them additional time to master the grade level?
In the thirteen years that I taught elementary students, I faced that question several times. This difficult decision was made jointly with parents, team teachers, the principal and myself. Retention affects a child‘s life immeasurably. Passing a child who has not reached a basic understanding of the curriculum is known as social promotion. In the event a child has been retained once, they will not be held back a second time due to the stigma attached to being an older student in a classroom. The retention problem is compounded when a child changes schools, because the classroom teacher rarely receives the student’s record. This means the child must go through yet another assessment period to determine his/her needs.
Last Wednesday at the swearing-in of new members of the Missouri State Legislature. House Speaker Steve Tilley (R-Perryville) addressed education issues which will come before both houses this session. He stated, “There is a need to strongly consider adopting policies to address social promotion. We are doing our children an injustice by merely passing them along if they can’t meet the minimum standards.”
Social Promotion is a problem in every school, in every school district in the country. Adults tend to forget that education is an upward spiral. The further you get in your education, the more difficult it becomes. An excellent high school math teacher began in a new district. At the end of the quarter, the majority of her students received failing grades. Their work was incomplete. Their test grades poor. While parents were outraged, should the teacher have passed those students?
Attendance also plays a role. A child cannot learn if he/she is not in class, yet this is what our teachers face everyday. Teachers are expected to pass their students whether they complete their work or not. If a student passes the final exam, should they be penalized for incomplete assignments? Our children are ill prepared for college when we allow this to happen. A child’s success is hindered by using a pass/fail method of grading. It is very judgemental and every student can “pass”. A percentage based grading system shows the student’s progress in a subject and identifies specific areas of concern and proficiency. Graduating students should not be starting college requiring math and english remediation.
Until students see their education as the path to their future, until discipline improves so teachers can teach the curriculum and until the community understands the pros and cons of social promotion, our students are at risk and our district’s accreditation is at risk.
We also have our success stories and we’re proud of them. Students have gone on to become doctors, lawyers, and very successful members of society. The majority of our students have the capability. The historic changes that occurred in the district last year have settled. All students can experience success when their needs are met. The question is how do we do it? Do we pass them on regardless of their performance? Do we lower our standards? Do we demand success or do we find someone to blame? As a member of the community, what would your recommendation be? If you were on the Hickman Mills School Board, what would you do?