Do we put students first when we promote them when they aren’t ready?

A retired APS teacher sent me this note in response to my entry a few ago on Michelle Rhee’s state report cards. I thought it was worth sharing as it addresses a problem that I hear about all the time — the promotion of kids who are not ready or prepared for the next grade:

I am a retired teacher from an APS middle school. I have tried to get someone to listen to what I consider a big problem in APS schools.

The article “Students first? really touched me. So many students in APS will never graduate from high school because they can’t read, write, or pass the CRT. It’s not their fault or their parents’ fault.

In the last 10 years of my teaching career, I saw so many students struggle because they were always put up to the next grade level even when they could not pass the grade they were in.

My last two years of teaching were in the sixth grade, and I had students who read on the third, fourth and fifth grade level but were “passed on.”

What does that mean? They did not pass their classes or the CRT but went on into the next grade. We are not putting these students first but putting the numbers that look great for passing first.

Of course, this keeps parents happy to see that their child went into the next grade. This makes the dropout rate in the ninth grade rise higher and higher because now students can be put out of school.

Two years ago, I emailed the state superintendent, the APS superintendent, the governor, the mayor and board members. I never heard from any of them. I told them that I wanted to talk to them about our students and reading.

I am white and my school was about 99.8 percent African American. I loved my students and still do even though I’m retired. I still hear from some of them, and they are doing great.

I won’t take up anymore of your time and I thank you for reading this e-mail.

I wish that someone would just listen to a teacher who echoes what many teachers want to say also. I know that in my heart we “must” change education in our country and it won’t be done by people who have not been in a school in 20 or 30 years.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

123 comments Add your comment

Home-tutoring parent

January 29th, 2013
2:41 am

Home-tutored boy married a convei mea ntionally (private)educated girl. She finagled him into buying a 21 ft sailboat. Her plan is to steal her parents’ 45 and circumnavigate the globe. Reality check, her parents are going to say, “You and Chris can handle things, go for it

Our second son married a black girl. First time croissants really meh. Second time, giving them more time to rise, top of the charts. I mean, the best I ever ate.

We did “home-schooling”. And our kids went to the Ivy League and got to meet and marry off-the-charts girls. That wasn’t our intention , but it was an “I’ll take this ” result.

fjeremey

January 29th, 2013
5:30 am

It seems we have come to consider a HS diploma a human right that one is entitled to whether qualified or not. The diploma is a credential. Would you want a doctor or a lawyer who didn’t quite pass their first year but got promoted because they needed to be with their peer group? Or a teacher?

If you can’t do the work on the level then you won’t be able to do the work on the next level. But intervention is time-consuming and expensive so school systems and taxpayers don’t like it. Teachers are begging to be able to take more time with the struggling kids, but we need more time to do so, and they need more time to master the material. Maybe someone does need to do each grade twice. We have to ask ourselves what the goal is.

Right now we have too many different goals that often act against eachother and we have lost sight of what we are working for. If the goal is that a HS diploma has value and is indicative of a level of achievement, then more people will take longer to achieve it. If it is to make sure that everyone has one by age 18 or 19, then it will lack value. Of course the diploma is the gateway to other things; college, med school, but if you can’t/won’t/don’t perform you shouldn’t get the credential.

In the so-called “real world” you get fired if you don’t do the job. Not so in public school. Perhaps a student who doesn’t do the job gets “fired” to a different pathway until they decide what they want out of their education. I will drive myself to exhaustion to help a student who wants to do better. But I can’t teach the unwilling. And without real consequences the unwilling will remain so.

But maybe high school, and college, isn’t for everybody. Why can’t we offer alternative pathways to those who would select it? Why can’t a student who only wants to be an auto mechanic, or a welder, and doesn’t see the value of another term of history, be allowed to apprentice? The student could graduate with a license to a well paying job, or even career. We keep saying we need skilled workers. Well, let’s teach those who are willing. For those who would like to go to college, I can help with that. But it is self-defeating to force students who would prefer to train and work in good jobs to go to college. It really isn’t for everyone. Let’s do better by those with different goals.

fjeremey

January 29th, 2013
5:32 am

“Perhaps a student who doesn’t do the job gets “fired” to a different pathway until they decide what they want out of their education”

Should read: Perhaps a student who doesn’t do the job should get “fired” to a different pathway…

Jarod Apperson

January 29th, 2013
6:15 am

I couldn’t agree with the former teacher more. We are passing all of the kids until 9th grade, then failing hundreds. It isn’t working, and it only seems reasonable that this would serve to discourage 9th graders.

lahopital

January 29th, 2013
6:22 am

When you hold a kid back you’re just punishing the poor children in the lower grades who will then have to deal daily with mentally weaker but more physically mature kids in their grades. If a school system wanted to use a Darwinian process to set up gangs by furnishing leadership, then holding back kids would be the perfect way to proceed.

crankee-yankee

January 29th, 2013
6:29 am

Social promotion is one of the biggest failings of the education system. I know the studies that point to retention leading to higher dropout rates but those studies are flawed. The lack of support, alternate methodology for those kids who were retained, was the reason for their eventual failure. The studies do not address that elephant.

When something isn’t working, just repeating it isn’t going to change the result. Retain the kids but place them in an alternate setting where they get instruction targeted to their needs. Yes, it will be more expensive than traditional instruction for those kids but having them drop out is even more expensive in the long run. It currently is a question of being penny-wise but pound-foolish.

hssped

January 29th, 2013
6:33 am

And high school is the dumping ground…..age limits of 19/20 for reg ed and up to 22 for special ed. Most high schools don’t teach reading. Why would they? Shouldn’t one be able to read before being “promoted” to high school? Oh, that’s right, not all are promoted. It is a mess.

mountain man

January 29th, 2013
6:38 am

“Do we put students first when we promote them when they aren’t ready?”

Hallelujah! Does someone else FINALLY see a problem here (not Maureen, of course). And WHO promotes the students? ADMINISTRATORS (helped by Georgia law requiring them to be promoted). Parents everywhere should be writing Deal and their State lawmakers to demand that this Georgia law be eliminated. Whoever thought up that law should be forced to attend 9th grade in APS for ten years.

mountain man

January 29th, 2013
6:41 am

“First time croissants really meh”

God help your kids, Home-tutoring parent.

Obsolete

January 29th, 2013
6:43 am

The article makes a good point when mentioning conflicting goals. Traditional public education is no longer the great eqaulizer. Traditional public education has run its course, its time for system based on parental choice.

HS Math Teacher

January 29th, 2013
6:45 am

Social promotion in lower grades has ALWAYS been the problem, and yes, probably the “stickiest wicket” to fix. Students need to demonstrate some sort of competency before advancing to upper-level subjects/grades, or have proof of some extraordinary life-changing circumstance that can explain away the poor performance in school. If a kid can’t pass 8th grade math, and fails the 8th grade math CRCT, then he/she should not be able to take a 9th grade math course. Sure, promote the kid to the 9th grade, but set aside a math class for repeaters (pay that Teacher extra). Allowing kids to roam up to high school without proper preparation is just setting them up for failure….WHEN THE ADULTS SHOULD KNOW BETTER!!!!

This social experiment of putting all kids into a college prep program of study needs to end. In spite of allowances made such as beefing up the curriculum down to grade six (doesn’t work – social promotion will see them to the 9th grade), support classes (filled by prankstas, gangstas, jokestas, and others who simply don’t want to do the work), and workshops (what a waste of taxpayer money and instructional time), this venture is futile. However, I’m sure our leaders are determined to see this to the end…with all the stubborness of LBJ, when he was chest-deep in the Vietnam morass.

Here come the Common Core Cheerleaders! Yipee, Horay!!!! All kids can learn!!!!!!

catlady

January 29th, 2013
6:53 am

I agree. We have way too many kids placed in the next grade. I think if the student doesn’t make the grades, they stay back. If they don’t make them the second year (and maybe before) they are excellent candidates for some kind of sped. At my school, that would be quite a few. Of course, our leaders say we have “too many” sped kids. Well, we have what the parents produced!

On social promotion: Ever notice how most folks are against it if it is someone else’s child? But raise holy h3ll if THEIR child should be held back?

teacher&mom

January 29th, 2013
6:57 am

The problem with retention is we hold them back, make them repeat the grade, but never address their learning deficits.

But…

If you address their learning deficits and teach them on their instructional level, you are still expected to have them ready to pass a standardized test in April that is not on their instructional level.

Old timer

January 29th, 2013
7:03 am

I think common core will not be an improvement. But, on topic, students are being placed grade to grade, never having passed the CRCT, and with good grades. How do we expect them to become adults, accountable for their actions, when they never have been exposed to that idea.
At the same time, I don’t know what would happen with 15 year olds in 6th grade.

HS Math Teacher

January 29th, 2013
7:09 am

Old Timer: Bring back a good, vocational diploma pathway for the Jethro Bodines.

Mountain Man

January 29th, 2013
7:22 am

This old timer says: bring back the “summer school” approach. If a child fails a class in regular session, they must attend “summer school”. If they fail at the end of summer school, then they are held back.

The second thing that needs to be addressed (as part of the social promotion problem) is attendance. It is hard to teach an empty seat. Now, whose responsibility is that? PARENTS!!!!!

Might

January 29th, 2013
7:23 am

This article really poses a false choice. If a school had proper support and intervention, almost all students would move from one level to another. There is no excuse from the perspective of the school and parents for a normal student not being able to read in high school.

TeacherMom

January 29th, 2013
7:24 am

IF we can get struggling kids in the primary grades – K-2 – and identify the area(s) of difficulty in reading, AND if we then retain those who are not reading on grade level, THEN there is hope. Before the 3rd grade, we are teaching kids to “learn to read”. From 3rd grade on, it’s “reading to learn.” We cannot, in good conscience, continue to pass kids to the 3rd grade who cannot read! Reading is a developmental process, and teachers in the primary grades are ready, willing, and able to help those struggling readers reach those developmental milestones. Teachers beyond 3rd grade don’t have the time, unfortunately, to remediate a roomful of non-readers while still addressing all of the state curriculum. I think that Common Core, which has very rigorous elements, makes the point that students must be able to read and write about what they are learning, and this starts in the primary grades. As a primary grade teacher, my discussion with parents centers on their ability to not only read well but also communicate in writing what they have learned. Discussions about retention take on a whole new urgency when parents actually see what is required. Is it painful to have those discussions? Sure it is. But I’ve also been a 3rd, 4th and 5th grade teacher and had those conversations. I would much rather stop someone by 2nd grade and get them caught up then try to stop the runaway train at 5th grade. By then, the poor kid is so far behind he/she has lost hope.

Mountain Man

January 29th, 2013
7:25 am

The focus on social promotion as a tool to reduce drop-outs and resulting grade inflation, has made the high school diploma a worthless rag. Why do you think businesses insist on at least a Bachelor’s degree for even the lowest management job? Because the Bachelor’s degreee in 2013 is the equivalent to the high school diploma of the sixties. The ONLY way you can be sure that a person can read, write and do basic arithmetic is to have a college diploma. A high school diploma does not guarantee these things.

Mountain Man

January 29th, 2013
7:28 am

“If a school had proper support and intervention”

Such as PARENTS that care enough to get their children to school every day, on time, and insist that they behave and do their work. Yes, with parents like that, EVERY child could succeed. Too bad…

Sk8ing Momma

January 29th, 2013
7:28 am

“It’s not their fault or their parents’ fault.”

WHAT?!??? Whose fault is it? Parents are responsible for seeing to it that their children are educated. Parents have choices by which to accomplish this task – public school, private school or homeschool. Although one attends public school, it is NOT the government’s primary responsibility to educate one’s child. It is simply an agent that a parent uses.

To the question at hand, it really doesn’t even bare asking. Of course, the interest of children is not first when one is passed to the next grade when he is not academically prepared. Rather, doing so is a disservice to ill prepared students. Sadly, they suffer individually and society suffers as a whole because it is left holding the bag.

Sk8ing Momma

January 29th, 2013
7:32 am

One more thought…With regard to the author’s opinion that it is not a parent’s fault that his child can’t read, write or pass the CRT, personal responsibility and engagement are required. IMO, all parents, regardless of income or educational attainment, can take an interest in their child’s education. If one doesn’t have the time or wherewithal to provide what a child needs, be resourceful/creative…ask for help.

Might

January 29th, 2013
7:33 am

@Mountain man. You have a lot of opinions but little facts. When I read this blog, I can’t help to think how there are so many with strong but uninformed decisions about educating students. Most of this state has classrooms with professional, very skilled, caring educators. Those of you out there who think you know, ask a teacher. Get educated about the issues.

Mountain Man

January 29th, 2013
7:35 am

“Of course, our leaders say we have “too many” sped kids.”

EVERYONE is SPED these days. LOTS of kids with ADD, ADHD, ODD, LSD, USA, LBJ, IRA – you name it. It is just a way to saddle the school with extra work so their “precious sunflower” can learn in an artificial environment that they won’t have in the real world. Then combine the SPED student in the 9th grade who has a mental age of six with serious physical problems and have the advanced algebra teacher deal with it while trying to teach her regular class. And of course pay a “special tutor” to give that student one-on one attention during the class. All for the illusion of “inclusion”.

cris

January 29th, 2013
7:39 am

I’m sorry, I can’t get past the first comment…will someone please “home tutor” that parent on how to proofread before submitting comments?

Mountain Man

January 29th, 2013
7:40 am

@Might – “You have a lot of opinions but little facts. When I read this blog, I can’t help to think how there are so many with strong but uninformed decisions about educating students. Most of this state has classrooms with professional, very skilled, caring educators.”

So you need to show me where my lack of “facts” is a problem. Have I complained once about TEACHERS. No, I have been complaining about Georgia Law and ADMINISTRATORS. You must be the expert, so p[lease enlighten me as to the error of my “opinions”. YOU give me the facts: how many high school graduates possess a high school diploma but have failed the GHSGT (repeatedly)? What percentage of high schoolers require more than two tries to pass this test? Is the test hard or is it so easy that most of us would pass it first time with no problem? Give me the FACTS!

Mountain Man

January 29th, 2013
7:43 am

ris – I agree with you. “Her plan is to steal her parents’ 45 and circumnavigate the globe.”

I am still trying to figure out if they will steal a 45 record or her parents’ .45-caliber pistol, or maybe some other type of 45 (maybe a 45-foot long boat?). Effective writing is evidenced by the comprehension of the readers.

Mountain Man

January 29th, 2013
7:47 am

“You have a lot of opinions but little facts.”

Opinions are like [noses], everyone has one and yours doesn’t smell one bit better than mine.

Dr. Monica Henson

January 29th, 2013
7:49 am

The problem is sorting students into birthday-based cohorts, which makes it “easier” for the adults in charge to manage them. This restriction keeps slower students from being accorded the time they need to meet standards. It also prevents advanced students from being able to move on when they are ready. What it DOES do is allow districts to gauge with reasonable accuracy the number of adults needed to manage the students.

If we move to a mastery-learning model, it becomes “messier” in terms of how to manage the herds of kids. This jeopardizes job security for the adults involved, because if we have lots of high schoolers graduating in fewer than four years, do we really need X number of teachers? Staffing has to become more fluid and flexible. The adults would have to cope with this uncertainty; one solution would be for teachers to become certified in multiple areas so that they would have the skills needed to teach WHAT IS NEEDED at the time rather than what they want to teach regardless of the student numbers.

Until public education moves into a mastery learning model that focuses on what is truly best for children, the public schools will continue to function as a jobs program for adults who manage birthday-based herds of students.

bootney farnsworth

January 29th, 2013
8:04 am

of course we promote them when not ready.

its not like this is breaking news.

ever tried to hold a kid back? some of the myriad of challenges and charges will be…..

-racism accusation
-gender bias accusation
-disability accusation
-orientation accusation
-emotional distress accusation
-don’t like me because I’m a football player/cheerleader/smarter than you/look like someone you hated in HS, fill in the blank
-you didn’t teach Jr correctly
-religious accusation

get the idea? and all these come with a side of threatened lawsuit.

then our lovely administrators get involved and force the issue
-don’t want to be sued
-likes the kid or the kids family is useful
-holding kids back messes with their record
-looking to fill quotas
-looking to impress their superiors/get promoted
-kid plays football
-scared of the kid or kids family
and my personal favorite – really just don’t give a damn if the kid learned, that’s not whats important here.

bootney farnsworth

January 29th, 2013
8:05 am

@ might

pot, meet kettle

bootney farnsworth

January 29th, 2013
8:08 am

@ obsolete

you have multiple choices already. how about we just mail a diploma to each house when the kid turns 18?

Current Teacher

January 29th, 2013
8:11 am

I currently teach High School US History and the only real difference between my “regular” classes and my “honors” classes is the ability to read and comprehend. My regular class is full of students who despite being in their 3rd year of High School have only 5 or 6 credits. They simply can’t read and understand the questions. We can only move so slow, and can only “dumb down” the curriculum so much.

Mountain Man

January 29th, 2013
8:11 am

For all you supporters of Social Promotion – What is your ultimate goal – to get the kid out of high school with a worthless sheet of paper but no education? Or to actually have them learn basic skills that will mean something?

OF COURSE, with unlimited resources and funds we can give every child who is behind their own private tutor (assuming they actually come to school, that is). We could even provide them with dedicated gold-plated limosine ride to school. We could endure their temper tantrums because they have never been asked to behave. We can endure their profanity and their apathy and keep trying to “make that horse drink”. Or we could do the most effective thing, REMOVE THEM FROM THEIR “PARENT” AND PUT THEM IN A BOARDING HOME. But all that costs money we don’t have.

If they don’t want to lear, let them fail, and then let them dig ditches or put them in prison when they turn to crime.

Catlady

January 29th, 2013
8:15 am

Folks, here in Georgia there is no money for summer school. Hasn’t been for quite some time.

What's Best for Kids?

January 29th, 2013
8:16 am

We fail the students when we promote them or give them a grade. What happens is that eventually they are so far behind that we they are unable to catch up. Then they drop out. I’ve seen it over and over and over again.

Mountain Man

January 29th, 2013
8:16 am

“how about we just mail a diploma to each house when the kid turns 18?”

Bootney – might as well. That is about how much it is worth anyway.

bootney farnsworth

January 29th, 2013
8:18 am

@ catlady

summer school in the metro area is thriving. and in the doughnut counties its primarly a venue for kids who want to get ahead, not get caught up.

bootney farnsworth

January 29th, 2013
8:21 am

@ mountain

what’s really frustrating is the crappy state of education here hamstrings the really hard working achievers. about 1/4 of the public school kids work hard and want to excel. but they end up with the
stigma of a Georgia HS diploma.

bootney farnsworth

January 29th, 2013
8:26 am

back in the dark ages when I went to DCSS – and it was considered the gold standard (yes, I’m that old) – I had a civics teacher in HS who firmly held in post King America the single most important goal of public ed was to teach the races to get along by means of lowering white standards til everybody was on the same level

ergo: social promotion

Mountain Man

January 29th, 2013
8:27 am

“Folks, here in Georgia there is no money for summer school. Hasn’t been for quite some time.”

Yet, we spend FOUR TIMES the amount per student that we spent in the sixties (ADJUSTED FOR INFLATION) and send students to classes in TRAILERS! What changed? Lots more ADMINISTRATORS and PAPERWORK. Lots more SPED.

indigo

January 29th, 2013
8:28 am

When I was in school, many years ago, there were no social promotions. You simply stayed in the grade untill you could do the work.

So, comparing schools then to schools now, it’s obvious social promotions are just another failed social experiment.

10:10 am

January 29th, 2013
8:35 am

This is yet another problem that would be solved if parents were allowed to send their kids to schools that better fit each child’s needs.

The way rich folks like the Obamas do.

Mother of 2

January 29th, 2013
8:48 am

The public high schools in Fulton County have summer programs for students who failed a class. There is a fee (about $250 per class) that parents are required to pay. Classes offered are CORE classes, including foreign language, and GA required classes, like PE. Students can also move ahead by taking classes online during the school year and over the summer. While Fulton County Public Schools aren’t perfect, they are certainly trying to provide an education to all students. Students who excell can get a jump on college through dual enrollment; some students start their first year of college with as many credits as 2nd year college students. Students who failed classes can retake the class during the summer and still graduate on time.

skipper

January 29th, 2013
8:51 am

So many people….so many opinions. Here is fact: THERE MAY NOT BE A PROPER WAY YET TO ADDRESS DEFICIENCIES, BUT PROMOTION TO THE NEXT GRADE IS IDIOCY GONE TO SEED! We have dumbed down enough. We now see what the so-called “experts” have done in the education arena. It has gone from a learning experience to a politically-correct social experiment. What a crock.

Old timer

January 29th, 2013
9:04 am

Cat lady….you are correct….county I worked in stopped summer school years ago. It actually was only helpful when parents paid a fee. The free concept never worked. Now kids are pulled out of some classes….those that do not count for AYP.
@Mountain Man….a vocational track would be excellent. Business English and math would be a requirement and consumer economics a big bonus.

Mary Elizabeth

January 29th, 2013
9:20 am

The retired teacher’s impacting letter to Maureen Downey, above, underscores the fact that students will not learn unless they are taught on their instructional, not frustration, levels – whatever their grade assignment.

One thought about relying too much on retention to address correct instructional level: Students are more than their instructional levels; they are developing young people – physically, emotionally, socially, as well as academically. Some children begin puberty as early as 11 – the age of the typical 6th grade student. If a student has been retained twice before age 11, he or she will be sitting in a 4th grade class at age 11 and, as a result, he/she may grow, that year, to tower above his/her classmates or he/she may develop other signs of puberty in the 4th grade. A better systematic plan would be the “case for continuous progress” of addressing each student’s correction instructional level throughout his/her school tenure until he or she masters the curriculum requirements for a high school diploma – even if that were to take certain students 13 or 14 years instead of the typical 12 years. See the link below for greater detail about this. One thing is for certain: Students will not learn unless they are taught on their correct instructional levels.

https://maryelizabethsings.wordpress.com/2013/01/06/the-case-for-continuous-progress-for-students-in-grades-k-12/

oneofeach4me

January 29th, 2013
9:33 am

I keep seeing people talking about “dumbing down”. Really?? I graduated high school about 17 years ago, and what I learned in Math my freshman year of high school, my now 11 year old daughter learned it when she was in 4th grade. We are talking a 5 year difference here in maturity level and also experience in a school setting as well as learned study habits.

So did anyone every consider that maybe, just maybe, we have more SPED or “social promotion” due to the fact that current school curriculum is trying to push EVERY child towards graduate school??

living in an outdated ed system

January 29th, 2013
9:39 am

I feel for this former APS teacher. There is a fundamental problem with repeated social promotion in school. We need to move towards competency based schooling.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I tutored an 11th grader who was reading at a 3RD GRADE LEVEL. His math level was 5TH GRADE at best. There are countless students who are moving through the system in this way. That is why even trying to boost the graduation rate isn’t enough. Are they graduating with the requisite skills? Some are, but many are not.

That is why the system, in many respects, does not work and is outdated. In the factory-driven world, maybe a mass-standardization, churn-them-out model works. But not today. We need to fix the system so that these kids do not get pushed forward when they’re not ready to do so. Part of this is effective teaching, but it is again a symptom of the systemic problems which go far beyond this one point. But I bet if the great teachers could be multiplied exponentially, then perhaps we’d see less of this problem.

I find it hard to believe that anyone would disagree on the POV of this former APS teacher.

Thanks

January 29th, 2013
9:46 am

No. Not doing anyone but administrators and school system #’s any favors by social promotion. The kids learn very quickly to quit and the parents don’t complain because they can save face when their kid does not fail a grade.