20,000 children to repeat a grade

City holding back those who failed summer school

August 28, 2002|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

More than a quarter of Baltimore elementary and middle school pupils will have to repeat a grade in the coming school year, the first real indication of how sweeping new passing standards will affect families across the city.

About 20,000 of 70,000 schoolchildren in grades one through eight failed to meet the standards, even after the majority of those pupils who were in danger of failing attended a five-week summer school.

Although the implications of failing so many children are serious, board member J. Tyson Tildon suggested he was encouraged by the result because it meant thousands of children who couldn't read, write or do math would no longer continue to pass as they have for decades in the city.

"We would not have known how dismal this was if we had not put in place the removal of social promotion. Without this intervention, those children would have been swept along," he said at last night's school board meeting.

At year's end, 29,678 children in grades one through eight were in danger of failing. Of those, 24,074 chose to attend summer school, but only 8,759 passed.

Most of the more than 5,000 children who didn't attend summer school will fail automatically.

School officials said the number of pupils who are passed could rise in early September as they hear appeals from parents who believe their children should be granted an exemption from the policy.

More than 2,000 parents have already appealed, and about half of those children were passed. In some cases, school officials said, a child might have come within only a few points of scoring satisfactorily on a standardized test that was one of the promotion standards.

The passing standards also were tightened for high school students. Results for those students were not available yesterday.

The promotion policy, designed to hold students accountable for their achievement, has been one of the city school board's signature efforts.

Board members toughened the policy last academic year, requiring children in grades one through five to achieve passing grades in their reading and math classes as well as a minimum score in both reading and math on the Terra Nova, a national standardized test formerly known as the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills.

Sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders had to pass all of their classes and get the same minimum scores on the Terra Nova. Eighth-graders also had to pass the state's three functional exams in reading, writing and math.

Middle-schoolers had the most difficulty meeting the promotion standards. Only 27 percent of middle-school children passed summer school, while 42 percent of elementary school pupils passed.

School officials have promised to give each pupil extra help throughout the coming school year to meet the promotion standards next spring. Those efforts include after-school and Saturday classes.

"One of the re-occurring themes of the board is our nervousness over the promotion policy," said school board member C. William Struever.

"Despite our best efforts and summer school, 20,000 students in grades one through eight weren't promoted. It is still a lot. For each of those [students who failed] our heart goes out."

Still board members showed no lack of resolve to continue the policy, but they asked school administrators to follow children who fail and provide more data on what happens to them as they progress through school.

Other school districts, such as Chicago, have seen high school dropout rates rise when similar passing standards were put in place.

In other school board business yesterday, officials said they expect every classroom to have a teacher for opening day next week, although it remains unclear how many of those teachers have teaching credentials.

The system has 48 openings to fill by Friday, said schools chief Carmen V. Russo, who believes that the job will be completed before school opens Tuesday.

The system will have hired 1,200 new teachers, one of the largest number of hires in recent years.

Exactly how many of the new teachers have certification to teach their subjects will not be known for several months, Russo said. The system has yet to go through each new hire's credentials.

But Russo acknowledged that it is unlikely the school system was able to meet the requirement of a new federal law that says every failing school must fill its vacant positions with certified teachers.

The law attempts to reverse the inequities in systems where the best and most experienced teachers tend to end up at the best schools, leaving the failing schools with young staffs and a high turnover rate.

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