Saturday Mailbox

SATURDAY MAILBOX

September 28, 2002

QUESTION OF THE MONTH

Q: In August, Baltimore's public schools announced that about 20,000 city elementary and middle school students would be required to repeat a grade. Do you think holding back students who haven't met the standards for their grade helps those children or hurts them? Does it make schools more effective or less effective?

Retention causes crowding, pain

Retention is not supported by research.

In fact, research reported by the National Association of School Psychologists has consistently shown that retained students rarely catch up academically and do not show better social or emotional adjustment than their peers who are promoted with similar skills.

Rather, these retained students are more likely to fall further behind in academics and experience more mental health problems in later school years.

Furthermore, retention increases the drop-out rate among students held back.

Early screening and effective academic interventions are two empirically supported practices that allow struggling students to succeed in school. Additionally, parents and community members need to help teachers by becoming advocates for students and by becoming involved in the schools.

Rather than waiting for students to fail, it makes more sense to be proactive and prevent problems from occurring in the first place.

Katie Tiburzi

Timonium

Writing from the trenches, I observe that retaining students merely confirms students' low opinion of themselves. Students believe they are the sole cause of their failure to learn. So they are discouraged and lose hope.

Now, if they said to themselves that poor or frequently changed curricula, poor instruction, pale dittos and noisy rooms played a part in the problem, they might have a chance.

If they understood learning disabilities and the inability of even great teachers to meet their needs in class, they might be patient with themselves.

In our schools, what I see are children who expect to fail despite their best efforts. They do not feel entitled to good schools, good instruction, good grades. They don't expect academic success.

We should surprise them with it.

Courtney Petersen

Baltimore

The writer is a social worker in the Baltimore public schools.

There is nothing wrong with ending social promotion. But, if that is the policy, it needs to be worked out in great detail.

And true to form, Baltimore's public schools created a policy without a plan, and the school-based employees are left to clean up the mess.

My heart goes out to all the students who came to school Sept. 3 and took their place in a new grade, only to be told days later that they must return to the grade they thought they had left behind.

Ronda Cooperstein

Baltimore

The writer is a school librarian in Baltimore.

I have worked for the Baltimore public schools for six years as a middle school teacher and, this year, as a ninth-grade teacher.

And I have seen that the new promotion policy has created an amazing amount of chaos because it has been redefined several times, and never made clear.

My guess is that the folks creating the policy are not gathering feedback on the results of their edicts.

Jodie Kavanaugh

Baltimore

Retention of students not meeting the standards for promotion to the next grade can be a positive thing, but only when there are enough teachers to instruct the students.

But in Baltimore, in some instances, classes on the elementary level are overcrowded because schools do not have enough teachers to accommodate the promoted and non-promoted students together.

When this happens, teachers cannot effectively instruct their classes.

Timothy Modlin

Parkville

It is said that doing the same things and expecting different results is the mark of insanity. Therefore, it is ludicrous to believe that children will benefit from a "double dose" of an education system that has failed them long before the mandate requiring that they repeat a grade.

Retention won't help these children; garbage in still equals garbage out.

Revamping their education is a more reasonable approach to improving achievement.

Deborah Tolson

Columbia

The writer is president of Education Support Services Inc.

For the Baltimore public schools to require 20,000 city elementary and middle school students to repeat a grade is total idiocy. These students will overcrowd an already overloaded system.

The older students will cause the teachers more disciplinary problems and will intimidate the younger students. The dropout rate will increase as students held back reach age 16. The truancy rate will also go up significantly.

Holding back 20,000 students just emphasizes the failure of our education system.

Walter Boyd

Lutherville

Making students repeat a grade does not make schools any more effective.

And holding students back discourages them and makes them feel that they are less successful than their peers.

Holding students back in elementary or middle schools will only hurt them in the future and undermine their opinion of themselves.

Irina Shklyar

Reisterstown

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