Pass or Fail: How to Choose an Alternative Strategy to Social Promotion and Retention
In this multi-part series, I provide a dissection of the phenomenon of retention and social promotion. Also, I describe the many different methods that would improve student instruction in classrooms and eliminate the need for retention and social promotion if combined effectively.
While reading this series, periodically ask yourself this question: Why are educators, parents and the American public complicit in a practice that does demonstrable harm to children and the competitive future of the country?
Research shows us that social promotion isn’t effective and ultimately hurts the student long-term. We know retention can do a lot of damage, too. So what, then, is the answer? The answer is nuanced and based on individual factors.
Factors for choosing an alternative strategy to retention or social promotion include all of the resources available to students and other stakeholders in their education. These stakeholders include teachers, school administrators, school counselors, parents or guardians. The social factors impacting students include emotional challenges, the strength and stability of the student’s family dynamic, and the level of the individual student’s motivation towards academic success.
Each of these factors plays an important role in determining the type of strategy that may help a student improve his or her academic performance. A child with specific learning abilities may benefit from having access to specific learning resources. Similarly, parents may benefit from having information on resources made available to them, as may children who struggle academically due to social or economic disadvantages.
In some respects, the need for alternative support strategies is as much about establishing a better process for identifying and analyzing the needs of struggling students as it is about finding alternative strategies to facilitate academic success. The Education Trust, for example, has identified key differences in the ways in which schools with “high” and “average” impact on the progress of struggling students used assessment data. The research demonstrated the advantage of using analytical data.
It showed that high-impact schools had “early warning systems” to identify struggling students or at-risk students. Some schools even went so far as to create “intervention teams,” groups of teachers and administrators specifically charged with developing learning plans for individual students. These individual learning plans, in fact, resemble individualized education plans, or IEPs, used for students with exceptionalities and GIEPs – the gifted individualized education plans used for students with above-average academic ability and performance.
Because of the necessary focus on educational strategies, teachers and administrators will likely remain key players, along with administrators in the development of alternative education strategies. There can be no progress in the education system unless key professionals agree on the target objectives and the best way to use available resources.
Finally, we must also consider ways to reestablish trust between educators, parents, and students. As most system stakeholders know, students who excel or even just perform adequately in school are likely to be relatively neutral in how they perceive the whole public school experience. Not so for those on the other end of the spectrum. Inevitably, it is the struggling, their families and sometimes even their teachers, who have the hardest time trusting the system as it presently exists.
The current system of public education is clearly undermining students who struggle the most. Efforts like Common Core and No Child Left Behind have only worsened an already bad situation, doing little but widen the achievement gaps between those students who struggle and those who excel. The approach to managing academic challenges and poor academic performance is also, at the end of the day, about reinforcing retention or social promotion, with the minimal functional application of resources to support the growth of students’ academic potential.
Click here to read all my suggestions for alternatives to social promotion and retention.