Social promotion of children to end

School board drafting policy to hold back and assist failing students

November 29, 2001|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Emphasizing that nothing is more important than ensuring that students learn what they are taught grade to grade, the Carroll County Board of Education began the task yesterday of crafting an aggressive promotion and retention policy.

Designed to end social promotions - the informal practice of promoting children regardless of whether they made acceptable grades - the new policy will set clear passing standards and streamline and expand interventions for students who fail or are at risk of failing.

Holding back students a grade will continue to be a last resort, although school officials intend the new policy to make the criteria for retention consistent across the county's 38 schools.

School board President Susan W. Krebs stressed that the policy is so important that other programs might have to be cut if new budget dollars cannot fully cover the cost of the necessary interventions.

"If a full budget doesn't come through, we may have to look at our [extracurricular] sports programs and music programs and we may need to find some other way of funding those extracurricular activities," she said. "We have to take a stance and say: `This is what we're about and we're just showing how serious we need to be about this.'"

The new policy and regulations "will be our Bible - this is how we do things" - rather than something that is put in an administrative manual, Krebs said.

Last year, 42 elementary pupils - 0.34 percent of the county's elementary population - were held back from advancing to the next grade. Sixty-one middle schoolers - 0.91 percent - were retained. And 260 high school students - 3.28 percent - were not promoted to the next grade.

School officials know that others move on to middle school and high school without being able to read on grade level - a deficiency that the superintendent and school board are trying to correct with this policy.

"We do know there are students like that. How many? We don't know," interim Schools Superintendent Charles I. Ecker said in an interview. "But one is too many."

For Ecker, ending social promotion was one of his first priorities after being appointed interim schools chief in August 2000.

"We promote kids and graduate students and they're not prepared to enter the world of work or enter the real world," said Ecker, who has since agreed to a four-year term as superintendent of the 28,000-student school system, beginning July 1 next year. "Some people say we have to promote them because it's bad for their self-esteem if we retain them. But I say, `Show me a student who cannot read and I'll show you a student who has no self-esteem.'"

Administrators offered the school board a two-paragraph policy this month, which they scrapped in favor of drafting a more detailed plan.

Among the ideas discussed at yesterday's work session were:

Developing grade-level promotion standards in reading and math that are related directly to state standards.

Making available research-based intervention programs and services, such as classroom interventions, summer school, Saturday school, after-school tutoring and community learning centers, to all students who fail to meet criteria for promotion and to those at risk of failing to meet the criteria.

Developing new curriculum for summer school and credit recovery courses.

Requiring high school juniors to complete 55 hours of the 75 hours of service they must perform for graduation before they can be promoted to seniors.

Giving school principals the final say in the grade and class placement of students.

Requiring each school principal to submit to the assistant superintendent a proposed plan of support for each retained student.

Ecker wants the new policy and corresponding regulations phased in over the next two years: It would be implemented in kindergarten through second grade in the 2002-2003 school year and in grades three through eight the next year.

He balked at board members' suggestions that the schedule was too aggressive. "It will be put off forever otherwise," Ecker said, shaking his head.

Middle Schools Director Donald Pyles, however, issued one note of caution to the board: "Without the interventions put into place and your full commitment and the budget there, retention would be an immoral thing to do to a child."

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