[caption id="attachment_1028" align="alignleft" width="135" caption="Photo courtesy of digitalart"][/caption] High-stakes testing on the national level was ushered in with much fanfare under the Presidential Administration of George W. Bush in the early 2000’s. Much of the legislation known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was modeled on a similar system Bush enacted in his home state of Texas. Yet, as President Obama and his Race to the Top aims to unseat the prominence of NCLB on the national stage, Texas law too is coming under fire. This week, the Education Commissioner in the State of Texas, Robert Scott, issued a statement to the legislature saying that he would not certify one of the key components of Bush’s policy: the ban on social promotion in grades 5-8 until funding was restored to the remedial programs designed to aid these failing students. The Dangers of Social Promotion In the last decade or so a lot of attention has been given to the practice of social promotion in school. Social promotion occurs when an otherwise failing student is moved on to the next grade for social reasons – to spare embarrassment, stay with friends, etc. Several studies link the act of socially promoting kids in key age groups (generally 10-14, right before high school) to higher dropout rates. The theory is simple: ill-prepared high school students are more likely to fail classes and be prevented from graduating, causing frustration and leading them to drop out of high school rather than continue to struggle. In the state of Texas, all students in grades 5-8 are required to pass the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness in order to move on to the next grade. If they fail, they must either retake the test and pass, or they will be forced to repeat the grade. With President Obama’s State of the Union speech last week and its focus on compulsory education up to age 18, finding ways to circumvent the trend of ill-preparedness in the high school classroom is essential. Texas’ ban on social promotion and enactment of a state standard for promotion is therefore in line with the current Administration’s move towards a better educated population. …but at What Price? The problem that the state of Texas has encountered, however, goes far beyond the simple desire to end the practice of social promotion for the good of the students. At the time that then-governor Bush enacted the law, funding levels were set at a rate that would allow these failing students the support that they need through summer school and remedial classes. The hope is that through intervention and additional instruction in math and English, failing students can pass the test on a retake. For the past two years, that funding level has been set at $293 million. However, in an attempt to balance the state budget, legislators slashed that amount to $23.5. That 92% decrease is what prompted Scott’s speech. The Real Stakes Scott’s move to suspend a much-needed practice is certainly bold. Since there is general agreement that social promotion produces poorly prepared students, no parent or teacher would be in favor of seeing the practice continue. However, without the proper funding to remediate these children, what possible solution does banning the practice really present? Now, the failed student is forced to sit in the same classes with younger students with the same resources. If sitting in class wasn’t enough to pass the test the first time, what makes legislators think that it will be enough the second or third time? The truth is that all children learn differently. They each have their own pace and their own needs. Once a system fails them, to repeat that same system only compounds the idea that school “isn’t for everyone” and actually promotes dropping out at a similar rate. The real stakes in this move by the Texas legislature are far more than a bottom line and a ban. They are children who struggle due to learning disabilities, family situations or bad luck. Taking these children and telling them to conform to a system that is not built for them or fail and to offer them no recourse when they do just that hardly seems like the best way to create a more educated population.
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