The principal at one of five Baltimore County elementary schools with the system's worst promotion rates says he's "not ashamed."
"Some people do need extra help," said Perry L. Conley, principal of Battle Grove Elementary School in Dundalk.
Battle Grove and four other of Baltimore County's 93 elementary schools failed to meet the state's standard for promoting students. Eleven of Battle Grove's 244 students in the first through sixth grades -- about 5 percent -- were not promoted at the end of the 1990-1991 school year.
To earn a satisfactory rating on the 1991 Maryland School Performance Report, 96 percent of students must be promoted. An excellent rating requires 98 percent.
The Battle Grove students who were held back were in first, second or third grade and were poor readers, Mr. Conley said.
The other four county elementary schools that did not meet the promotion standard for grades one through five were: Middlesex Elementary School, where 93.8 percent of the 488 students were promoted; Scotts Branch Elementary School, where 94.5 percent of the 364 students were promoted; Padonia Elementary School, where 95.3 percent of the 261 students were promoted; and Chadwick Elementary School, where 95.9 percent of the 290 students were promoted.
By comparison, 36 of Baltimore's 117 elementary schools did not meet the promotion standard and all of Howard County's 28 elementary schools met the standard.
The Baltimore County schools that did not meet the state standard are trying to improve their promotion rates, and county educators are developing a systemwide approach.
Sidena Bollias, director of the Baltimore County's office of elementary education, said the system looks "at each individual child to determine if he or she should be promoted." She said the system does not promote students who are not ready just to allow them to progress with their peers.
"Sometimes it is advisable for a school to retain a child," Ms. Bollias said. Some children cannot grasp the work and would slip further behind if promoted, she said.
Ms. Bollias said a districtwide committee has been formed to research promotion and retention rates and how they affect children. The committee also is considering changing report cards to reflect more accurately what students have learned.
Battle Grove, at 7828 St. Patricia Lane, is in an isolated area near Sparrows Point. It is surrounded by a working-class community of small brick row houses.
The school, a rambling brick building, held 1,100 students before Bethlehem Steel Corp. started losing business in the 1960s.
Charleen Dean has two daughters who were held back in first grade at Battle Grove. "I wouldn't have had it any other way," she said. "I knew they were having problems." Sarah, 10, is now in fourth grade at the school. "She is doing real good now. It gave her confidence," Mrs. Dean said.
Katie, 8, is in second grade and "doing a lot better," she said. Both girls had trouble with reading, she said.
The girls heard only one negative comment from schoolmates about being held back. "One little boy came up to Katie and asked, 'What happened to you?' " Mrs. Dean said. "It didn't bother her."
Children who are retained have two "rough" days, Mr. Conley said. "It's the last day of school and the first day of school. I don't know how to make those two days easier for them," he said.
Other children question the students about why they were retained, Mr. Conley said. He advises parents to tell children to answer, "I stayed back because it's helping me."
Mr. Conley acknowledged that not all parents agree with the decision to hold back their children.
At Padonia Elementary School, part of the low promotion rate was attributed to the large number of students who do not speak English.
The school at 9834 Greenside Ave., Cockeysville, has been referred to as a mini-United Nations because of its ethnic diversity. Ten percent of the 310 students spoke little or no English last school year.
New students who speak no English are placed in a grade based on their age where they learn English, then remain in that grade another year to pick up academic skills, school administrators said.
Scotts Branch Elementary School at 8220 Tawnmoore Road is implementing several programs to address the promotion rate. They include an after-school math tutorial program and parent workshops on how to reinforce reading and math skills at home.
Perry Hall Elementary School, one of many elementaries that met the promotion rate standard, attributes its success to programs such as Gender-Ethnicity and Student Achievement seminars in which teachers learn strategies to raise student achievement.
Principal Beverly German said teachers learned how to be sensitive to ethnic and gender differences, such as being sure to call on boys and girls equally in class.