235 pupils moved ahead

City school system allows 8th-graders to advance

Group had failed summer school

Decision appears to go against promotion policy

October 01, 2003|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

More than 200 city eighth-graders who thought they would be required to repeat the grade received good news this week.

Although the pupils did not meet the standards of the system's strict promotion policy, school officials decided to move them along. They will be placed in the ninth grade or in a transitional program called 9T, which provides remedial help.

The move appears to further loosen what was intended to be a tough promotion policy, which declared three years ago that students would meet performance standards in each grade or be held back, without exception.

This year, more than 2,700 failing students in the city were promoted, more than half of them because they had been retained at least one time before.

Yesterday, the last of about 235 eighth-graders who failed summer school and should have been held back were moved along, officials said.

"The majority of the students moved to 9T, and a smaller number moved to ninth grade," said Chief Academic Officer Cassandra W. Jones.

Concluding that eighth-graders were being held to more promotion standards than other students, the city school board agreed last month to review the records of eighth-graders who had failed.

The promotion policy requires that students pass their core courses - English, math, science and social studies - and reach the 23rd percentile on the CTB/Terra Nova, a standardized test.

But eighth-graders also must pass four other exams, the Maryland Functional Tests, to move on to ninth grade. As a result, eighth-graders must meet nine standards for promotion while students in other grades must meet five.

"The idea of hitting nine hurdles, each one exactly," said board Vice Chairman Sam Stringfield, "I think that might have been a little unreasonable."

School officials also worried that some frustrated eighth-graders who had been retained would drop out of school.

"Some of these students had not actually come to school [this year]," Jones said.

Many of the recently promoted eighth-graders had extenuating circumstances, Jones said, such as the death of both parents in an extreme case. Others had been retained more than once.

"We had to go back and look at these case by case," she said.

Stringfield said such an individualized review of eighth-graders was appropriate because the promotion policy was never intended to be one size fits all.

"None of [the promotion criteria] was meant to be a completely hard measure," he said. "There was always supposed to be some human judgment in these things."

State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick said city school officials need to do more than review students' records individually.

The promotion policy itself needs to be changed, Grasmick said.

"The policy is no longer sound," she said yesterday. "The current policy is based on tests that are obsolete."

The state has been phasing out the Maryland Functional Tests, as well as the CTB/Terra Nova, because those tests are not in line with state academic standards, Grasmick said.

Grasmick has suggested that the city school system review promotion policies in three school systems: Howard, Frederick and Montgomery counties.

"I would like to see changes made for this coming year," Grasmick said.

That is good news to Damion Fennoy, who fought the city school board to promote his son, Jarrod Carpenter, to the seventh grade.

Jarrod, who had been held back two years ago in the fourth grade was retained again in the sixth grade this year, until Fennoy successfully argued on his son's behalf at school board meetings.

Interim schools chief Bonnie S. Copeland examined his case, and Jarrod started the seventh grade at Chinquapin Middle School yesterday, a month into the school year.

But most children don't receive that kind of individual review, Fennoy said, which is good reason why the policy should be reviewed instead.

"I think that right now, the school system is doing a big injustice to a lot of kids out there," Fennoy said. "I'm very happy that they changed their mind for my son, but so many other kids' parents are not going to go up to the school board like I did."

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