Saturday Mailbox

SATURDAY MAILBOX

September 28, 2002

Helping kids to do better

The effectiveness of retaining students who don't meet grade-level standards depends on several variables, including how the student is told of the decision, what is done to help the student and the student's own learning ability and outlook on education.

The child who is being held back should be helped to understand that it is not a punishment, but an attempt to help him or her develop needed skills. Letting the child believe he or she is stupid or lazy, or that the teacher acted out of personal dislike for the child, accomplishes nothing.

The child needs to feel there is something to be gained from retention.

Individualized testing is also needed to show the student's weaknesses to be corrected as well as the strengths to build on. Simply covering the same material a second time in the same way will not teach the child anything, except perhaps rote memorization.

And if a child has a learning disability, that should be identified and addressed, so that the child can learn how to compensate and study.

As a teacher, I heard the argument that retaining a student damages the child's self-esteem. But no one could explain what level of self-esteem a student would have when he or she arrived in grade 12 unable to read or compose a simple sentence.

Students who are taught by methods they understand, who are respected, encouraged, challenged and made to feel that education is important, will learn - even if they have to repeat a grade along the way.

Judith A. Free

Baltimore

Students must learn the skills they'll need

Allowing failing students to advance only does them a disservice and results in less effective schools.

This is especially true at the elementary and middle school levels, where the foundation for all future education is being built.

Simply passing these students to the next grade level will not correct the underlying weakness that caused their failing grades.

And, not having mastered the basics, these children will experience difficulty again and again throughout their education when these skills are required to solve more complex problems.

Furthermore, already overwhelmed teachers receiving these students will have to devote additional attention and resources to address the deficit in knowledge and skills expected at that level.

As a result, achieving students may suffer and begin to fall behind.

It is unfortunate that any student has to repeat a grade; however, allowing failing students to advance holds much more potential for real damage to the student and the school.

Christopher H. Godwin

Baltimore

I have taught in a Baltimore public high school, dealing with ninth-graders who came to high school with no concept of the need for education, much less study skills, reading comprehension, mathematical prowess or historical perspective.

They were simply moved along in a system that rewarded failure by ignoring it.

We in the school system call this "benign neglect." But it is criminal to allow students to enter high school or even middle school with a second-grade reading level.

These students then drop out. Of the 1,900 new ninth-graders entering Lake Clifton/Eastern High School in 1995, only 286 graduated in 1999.

Where do the other 1,614 end up? They become statistics. They clog our prisons, drug treatment centers and hospitals because they have not been prepared for the real world.

They act out their anger at an uncaring system by destroying themselves and others.

We cannot allow this to continue.

The embarrassment that the city school administration is experiencing now over retaining 20,000 students is just a painful necessity.

We either start reversing the trend now or continue to juggle numbers while our children suffer needlessly because someone at North Avenue doesn't want his or her dirty linen showing.

Vincent C. Kimball Jr.

Baltimore

Yes, students who haven't met standards should be held back, if the new year's teaching approach is different and meets the students' needs.

As someone who has worked in the city schools for nine years, I have known 16-year-olds in the ninth grade reading on the third- or fourth-grade level.

They were dire victims of the "social promotion" policy.

Joyce Wolpert

Baltimore

I am shocked and saddened that so many youthful students, 20,000 in the city, will be required to repeat a grade.

But requiring a student to repeat a grade allows that student additional time to grasp the knowledge he or she did not initially assimilate.

And it can teach a very valuable lesson in life: Failure can and will happen, but if you try, really try, you can conquer failure and be successful.

William Bystry

Fallston

I was a student who had to repeat a grade.

At the time, I thought it was the most humiliating thing that could happen to me. But when I look back, I see that this was the best thing that could have happened to me.

After repeating the sixth grade, I became a better student. I continued school successfully and graduated from high school as a member of the National Honor Society.

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