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The Joke That Keeps On Giving: Social Promotion Holds No One Accountable!

on Feb 19, 13 • by • with Comments

“How did I fail? I did all of my work! You must not like me… I came to class everyday. ” These were the protests from my current ninth graders as I handled the arduous task of doing what every teacher hates the  most- explaining to children their first semester grades  in my class. Every [&hellip...
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4d627b4f3cd0d1298299727 blog The Joke That Keeps On Giving: Social Promotion Holds No One Accountable!“How did I fail? I did all of my work! You must not like me… I came to class everyday. ” These were the protests from my current ninth graders as I handled the arduous task of doing what every teacher hates the  most- explaining to children their first semester grades  in my class. Every  conference that I had (whether they failed or not) the students seemed to be  genuinely confused about their grades. Some students could not fathom that they did not have a 100%-like they did in Middle School Language Arts. While others were bewildered on how they did not earn enough points to pass.

By the end of the day, I was mentally exhausted from explaining to children that in high school you HAVE to earn credits to be promoted.

The longer I thought about these conferences,  the more I was confused  but for different reasons. Despite the students whines, I had done my ‘due diligence’ in making sure that students were updated about their grades. I had contacted parents once every two weeks all during the semester, I had offered after school tutorial and had differentiated my butt off. But what happened that  students  were still  dumbfounded about how they failed the class? After taking an afternoon and reviewing (yet again) my students records (test scores, etc.) I had an epiphany. Almost half  of my students were in high school due to social promotion. Many had failed numerous testing from elementary  all the way through middle school while others had attended summer school for several years in a row due to being retained during the school year. The further I investigated, the angrier I got. I noticed that many of them had appealed their retention in middle school and through this ‘appeal’ process they were able to  go to the  ninth grade..regardless of their academic readiness.

Social promotion is apparently the gift that continues to give long after middle school. 

According to Ed Week, social promotion is defined as  the practice of passing students along from grade to grade with their peers even if the students have not satisfied academic requirements or met performance standards at key grades. Practiced in most middle schools in the south, the practice’s effectiveness is  often questioned by high school teachers where students are expected to actually earn credits in order to graduate.

Despite me being shocked by my research, social promotion is nothing new for me and my colleagues. Every year in August we are met with the same bewildered group of ninth graders eager to start high school but completely clueless with how different the world of obtaining credits really is. Instead as a staff we try to correct the negative behavior we see from students that hinder their academic readiness such as:

  • lack of organization
  • immaturity with the opposite sex
  •  their lack of accountablity  for their academics while in high school
  •  their complaining  about the amount of work given in high school and subsequently have to ask for extra credit
  •  their indifference when  they fail several core classes.

As a teacher, it’s my job to have conferences with them, call parents, discuss summer school options but still there’s genuine shock when they are retained for their grade level. Not because they’re surprised they didn’t do the work, but that the teacher actually held them accountable for their (lack of)work.

While social promotion has been around for decades in the last twenty years there has been a considerate amount of ‘back lash’ to the practice of  social promotion. Teachers are tired of students being passed despite them lacking academic skills to be successful in the next grade. So if social promotion has so many negatives, why is it even practiced?   Research has shown that the practice of having students repeat a grade—retention—often has negative educational consequences, such as increasing their chances of dropping out of school (U.S. Department of Education, 1999). However, no one really discusses the negative drawbacks that directly affect teaching and learning in any school that practices social promotion. This practice :
  • gives children a fake sense of academic accomplishment.
  • does not give the middle and elementary school teachers the ability to have any real ‘grit’ behind their grades.
  • promotes students who are not academically ready to go to the next grade.
  • lends to the senseless practice of ‘make up work’
  • does not prepare students for any type of post secondary school where grades are indeed final.

The stark reality is that social promotion is a cruel joke that education reformist play on our children. Instead of helping address student’s areas of deficit, it  ‘masks’ it as ‘not a big deal’ and students and parents never deal with it.  Some students make it all the way to ninth grade with no concept of how grades and work intertwine. Through social promotion we’ve told kids that it doesn’t matter about academic readiness but instead about socially where you belong. While their are critics that cite the effects failure has on children,  they pale in comparison to the effects of not holding our children accountable.

So what are teachers to do when they encounter students who have ‘made it’ into their classrooms by the ‘grace’ of social promotion? Nothing, but attempt to work with those students through remediation, tutorial, targets RTI strategies to address their areas of need and pray.  In the end, there’s another ninth grader who figuratively ‘bites the dust’ and learns that in high school you actually have to earn credits in order to graduate.

 

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Comments

  1. Kim says:

    And by the time they have entered high school, many are so far behind in math and reading that it is nearly impossible to catch up. They stick around until 18 (the drop out age in Michigan) and then drop out. We test our incoming freshmen every year with a reading test…75% of them read BELOW an 8th grade level and have made it to high school. It's horrifying! Then they and their parents don't understand why they can't pass 9th grade.

  2. Karen says:

    Yes, I cannot retain second graders who cannot read, they have no letter- sound correlation or number sense. Many have hardly attended school-ever! In third grade they must take the standardized test: English speaking or not, IEP or not. What an unfair, tragic state of affairs for students and teachers alike. Set up for failure.

  3. Barbara N says:

    The article above was written by a high school teacher of Freshman students. I was a middle school teacher; I retired in 2011. I felt the same way about social promotion. We soldiered on in a daily challenge to students to be responsible to do their work with high quality work, showing understanding of the concepts we taught. Yet when grades on assignments were returned we got complaints as above “I did all of my work” without the understanding of the concepts or quality of work in place (quantity versus quality). Students don’t listen, and are sometimes supported by helicopter parents that want to apply pressure to teachers to give their “little Einsteins” As. They don’t think that Cs are average; they think As are average. At the end of the year in conferences considering retention of students who continually have been irresponsible and haven’t mastered grade level skills or passed state level tests, principals want to be rid of those students and move them on. They point out the fact that those students will be physically larger than their classmates. They worry about them contaminating the pool of the class below. They would rather be done with them. So the principals and parent want to move them on, and the teachers really can’t overrule the principals. So lay the blame on administration and parents where it belongs.

  4. Barbara N says:

    The article above was written by a high school teacher of Freshman students. I was a middle school teacher; I retired in 2011. I felt the same way about social promotion. We soldiered on in a daily challenge to students to be responsible to do their work with high quality work, showing understanding of the concepts we taught. Yet when grades on assignments were returned we got complaints as above “I did all of my work” without the understanding of the concepts or quality of work in place (quantity versus quality). Students don’t listen, and are sometimes supported by helicopter parents that want to apply pressure to teachers to give their “little Einsteins” As. They don’t think that Cs are average; they think As are average. At the end of the year in conferences considering retention of students who continually have been irresponsible and haven’t mastered grade level skills or passed state level tests, principals want to be rid of those students and move them on. They point out the fact that those students will be physically larger than their classmates. They worry about them contaminating the pool of the class below. They would rather be done with them. So the principals and parent want to move them on, and the teachers really can’t overrule the principals. So lay the blame on administration and parents where it belongs.

    1. Karen says:

      I feel like administration has their hands tied as much as the teachers sometimes. I really agree that the parents need to shoulder much of the blame here. When I tell a parent since day one that her daughter is not doing well, then she tells me she is blindsided when grades come out and are low, there is not much I can do. I’ve been asking over and over, where does the child’s responsibility start (for his or her own learning) and mine end?

  5. Karen says:

    I’m trying to help the cause by teaching my 6th graders to be accountable. I, too, am surprised at how the students and parents view the work I require and that they are surprised when I assign the grade that is earned. I have heard, “But I did the work!” more times than I can count. Yes, you did the work, but it was not of high quality. Hopefully the teachers who come next for my students have a bit of an easier time than they would have otherwise.

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