Why LA sends failing students on to the next grade
August 21, 2014 | By Molly Callister/Hechinger Report | No Comments
When Alberto Cortes was held back in fourth grade because of low math skills, he thought his world had come to an end.
“The first day of going back to fourth grade, I see all my friends with new teachers there in fifth grade,” Cortes said. “I started crying because I had to do fourth grade again and they got to go to middle school.”
At first the humiliation and embarrassment of retention motivated Cortes to try hard in his classes. But by seventh grade, he was smoking and doing graffiti to impress kids and shed his reputation as the “dumb” older kid.
When he was kicked out of his middle school, in the San Fernando Valley just north of Los Angeles, Cortes saw a chance to solve the problem. At the new school to which he was assigned, he asked to jump ahead a year, to eighth grade, so he could join the other kids his age. Because of his age, school administrators agreed. But by the time he got to high school — after only a couple months in eighth grade — Cortes was still behind academically. After a few months, he dropped out.
Cortes’s experience — being retained because of his grades and later promoted despite them — is indicative of the confusion in districts across the country about how best to deal with struggling students. Research shows that often retention can have negative effects on students. Nevertheless, a growing chorus of critics over the past two decades, including President Obama, have urged schools to end “social promotion,” the practice of passing failing students onto the next grade.
“This notion that we should just graduate kids because they’ve reached a certain age and we don’t want to embarrass them, despite the fact that they may not be able to read, that is a disservice to students,” Obama said in 2010.
This logic has led 15 states and the District of Columbia to adopt policies requiring third-grade reading proficiency before a student can be promoted. Large urban districts, like New York City and Chicago, have also experimented with ending social promotion.
But despite promises and new policies meant to hold more students back until they’ve mastered grade-level material, a University of Why LA sends failing students on to the next grade | EdSource: