Pass or Fail: Social Promotion Abolishment — A Case Study
If a student hasn’t meet the material-based learning criteria, they face one of two options: retention or social promotion. So, what happens when a school suddenly decides to ditch social promotion practices? Read on to see how this real-world scenario plays out:
Long Beach Preparatory Academy in the Long Beach school district in Southern California had been hurriedly cobbled together from prefab structures in about five months. It was in a difficult neighborhood, and the school district had recently decided that social promotion, which moves students up based on age rather than test scores, had to go. Unlike other schools in the area, Long Beach Prep had plenty of money, sieved from budget reserves.
They had manageable classrooms of twenty kids or fewer. They had ninety-minute classes, rather than the standard forty. The district would spend $6,300 per pupil to educate the students. (Note that this is just shy of the national average – California has had longstanding educational budget woes). The principal, Miguel Lopes, even had the funds to hire a dean of discipline to keep the kids in line.
Adrian Chavez, his hair bleached blond from long afternoons at the shore, had been told by a teacher that he was “wasting taxpayers’ money”—and it could be argued that he was. He and many other students were getting terrible grades. His classmate Brandon Perkins, an inherently bright student, had turned in a dire report card at the end of the previous year and, according to his mother, had “the attitude to go with it.” Clearly, the school needed to pull itself together.
The district-level abolishment of social promotion, which in the case of Long Beach Prep meant that any eighth-grader with two F’s on his or her report card would be held back, had a dramatic effect on the school. Four hundred and twenty-five students flunked, possibly the largest group in any school in recent Californian history. By the end of the year, only 292 students remained at the school.
But in the meantime, something extraordinary happened. Of those remaining students, just a handful failed to pass. Adrian Chavez was finally free to dream about becoming a boat captain and was engaging with his teachers for the first time. Brandon Perkins’ mother was astonished by his “complete turnaround.”
In the case of Long Beach Prep, cutting back on social promotion clearly created better results for the students who remained. However, what about the hundreds of kids who were expelled or sent elsewhere? Is abolishing social promotion the best way to go for everyone in the community?
Social promotion, of course, is the option that allows otherwise “failing” children to move on to the next grade level. They move on even though they have not mastered everything required, and they may even have other identified issues with skills-based learning. Social promotion, however, also allows that students may lack the expected knowledge and skills to function well at the promoted grade level. It allows their promotion regardless, always in spite of a common and reasonable concern that this approach places already struggling students at risk of future failure, rather than addressing their academic or personal needs at the moment.
Retention takes the opposite approach and tends to be the harsher of the two options. It is usually the most difficult option for the student to deal with on a psychological, social, and academic level.
Retention puts a child back a year, determining that they should remain in a specific age-grade level if they have not mastered the appropriate knowledge or skills to graduate to the next level. It focuses on the academics at hand and is less likely to take into account the feelings or potential social shortfalls of holding a child back. The positive angle is that it allows students to take additional time to master materials that they have struggled with.
The question of whether social promotion or retention is best, or whether one is more appropriate than the other, continues to be central to the educational challenges of this country. In most school districts, the more overt practices of social promotion appear to be in decline. However, although retention is emerging as a preferred policy, many districts still rely heavily on social promotion.
Do you agree with the move toward retention over social promotion within American schools?
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