Arundel school board weighs appeals process

Middle school pupil promotions at issue

April 08, 1999|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County school board members are considering a policy that would give parents of failing middle school children the chance to appeal principals' decisions to promote their children despite poor academic performance.

School principals have the authority to promote sixth-, seventh- or eighth-graders, even if they have failed most of their classes. Parents may appeal such a decision to Superintendent Carol S. Parham through a cumbersome process outlined in state education law.

But the policy the board is considering spells out specific procedures in which parents who believe their child should be held back a year because of failing grades can appeal the promotion first to the assistant superintendent of instruction, then to Parham, then to the school board, which would make the final decision.

"This clearly spells out who the parent should talk to and the time frame for it," said Kenneth Lawson, associate superintendent for instruction and student services.

But some board members were concerned that the new policy and the old one do not put enough emphasis on academic performance.

At a school board meeting yesterday, member Vaughn Brown told Lawson he thought the new policy should include specific instructions for teachers and parents to use to help pupils who are failing and in endanger of being held back.

"I want to make sure we are doing all we can to focus on academic achievement," Brown said. "We ought not be surprised at low academic achievement in high schools if we don't have academic achievement in elementary and middle school."

Joseph Foster, another board member, agreed.

"I am very concerned about putting a policy in place that does not clearly state our objective of academic performance," he said.

Lawson said he and his staff will consider Brown's and Foster's comments and possibly bring a new draft of the policy to the board in a month.

Promoting failing elementary and middle school pupils -- commonly known as social promotion -- is not unique to Anne Arundel County.

It is a practice based on the theory that despite failing grades, a pupil has the academic ability and is mature enough to advance to the next grade. Some educators also believe that it is bad for a child's self-esteem to be held back a year and attend the same classes with younger pupils.

Lawson said only a small number of county elementary and middle school pupils are held back each year. If a school system decides to base promotion solely on academic performance, it might have to develop new and sometimes individualized curricula for the pupils who are held back, he said.

Research has shown that having a pupil repeat the same classes taught in the same manner does not ensure success, he said.

Last summer, Parham's Task Force on Student Achievement recommended that a promotion policy based on academic skills be developed and used in all elementary and middle schools.

Pub Date: 4/08/99

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