Monday, December 05, 2005

Social Promotion And Tar-Heel Education

Like many states, North Carolina proclaimed an end to social promotion. It looks like that announcement may have been a bit premature:
North Carolina's public schools are not following a strict policy aimed at preventing the automatic promotion of students who fail end-of-grade tests in reading, math, or both.

Only about 500 of the roughly 4,000 fifth-graders who failed one or both tests last year were held back, The News & Observer of Raleigh reported Sunday.

The State Board of Education adopted the retention policy five years ago, demanding that students meet a clear standard to avoid promoting those who aren't prepared to move up, which can hurt struggling students.

But since the policy took effect, the percentage of students who move up to the next grade after failing the state tests has continued to rise.

In the benchmark third, fifth and eighth grades, 79 percent of students with failing scores in reading, math or both were promoted anyway. That figure was 64 percent in 2001.

The state also has not measured the policy's effect on students who have failed the testing standard, whether they were promoted or retained.

Howard Lee, the state board chairman, who was a state senator when the policy was approved, said the board may need to take a closer look.

"There is no point having a policy on the books that isn't effective," he said. The board may decide to "enhance the enforcement ... or throw in the towel."

Students who fail the state tests get two more tries. Most students meet the testing standard and are promoted, with fewer than 3 percent falling short.

Despite high promotion rates of those who do fail, educators say the policy is having its desired effect of focusing attention on struggling students. It's also causing schools to give them extra instruction tailored to their needs.

"Schools are paying greater attention to students who aren't succeeding," said state schools superintendent June Atkinson. "When a student doesn't pass the end-of-grade test, that alerts the school, the student, the teacher and the parents."

The state policy also gives principals wide latitude to consider factors other than test scores when making the final call whether to promote a student. Such evidence includes a student's class grades and the teacher's opinion.
It's my understanding that several studies have concluded that retaining students does little to improve their individual academic performance. I do not know what, if any, effect a rigorously enforced retention policy would have upon a school system's overall academic performance.

Still... when a school system announces a policy and doesn't follow through with it, what message does that send to parents, students, and educators?
See the latest edition of The Carnival Of Education right here and our latest posts over there.