Why can’t we read ‘good’?by Marc Severson on Apr. 07, 2012, under Education
Erik W. Robelen, co-author of the blog “Curriculum Matters”, writes about a coming trend in education. (1) Many states are trying to do away with social promotion. Social promotion is the practice of sending a child to the next grade because they have been in class another year, without focusing if they are ready. As an educator I am as much in favor of getting rid of social promotion as the legislators appear to be. But I believe they are going about it entirely the wrong way. As usual with these types of solutions, it is much too simplistic.
The intent of most of the legislation is to put in place a “third grade limit” to social promotion. You can be promoted in kindergarten, and in first grade and in second grade even if your reading scores are not up to par but when you hit third grade your free ride is over — time to grow up and read.
This suggest a dangerous precedent to educators: a wall in third grade that will lead to clogging of classes at that grade and less success instead of more.
Educators know that all children do not read at the same age. They will tell you some who come into kindergarten have deciphered the great mystery and are already reading. My first daughter was one of those (2 ). Others don’t get it until first grade is well into the year, like my second daughter. Then there are those that are not ‘in the know’ until much later — like me.
What is important about this is that the person who best knows when that child will read is their teacher. They are the one working with that child on a daily basis, the ones seeing what progress is made, however incremental. Legislators are right to be concerned about the issue of children being able to read by a certain point in their school careers but they also have to be willing to work with the experts in the field to equitably do away with social promotion.
As a teacher I have retained children in grade. I have to admit that I am not a real strong proponent of how it should be employed. I tend to err on the side of time and encouragement. But I can look back on those children that I have retained in grade and say that I am two for three. Two out of every three that I retained were successful the next year. As a former baseball player I think that’s a pretty good batting average.
If I may be so bold as to tell legislators what I think their legislation in re education and retention in grade should look like, I would propose this: empower teachers by removing age as a criteria for placement and promotion.
Rather than setting a grade level as being the ‘end’ so to speak, I would facilitate the end to social promotion by taking away the expectation.
We are currently in the process of establishing nationwide standards for each grade level. This is long overdue. A child in second grade in Mississippi should be learning the same basic skills as a second grader in Arizona so that if one moves from one state to the other, the transition is less troublesome.
By removing age as a criteria, a child would move from grade to grade by completing the standards for that grade, not by having a birthday. The teacher would have to focus on teaching children on an individual basis more by maintaining portfolios. Testing would be reduced to progress monitoring on an individual basis, not stigmatizing whole classes. That would mean that states would have to fund education so that teachers had a reasonable number of children to work with to allow for the increased follow-along. Support would also have to be offered to assist those struggling by offering them tutoring and small group instruction. I would also look at the way classes are established more closely and encourage multi-grade class designations. Classes like Primary K-1 or Intermediate 4-5 might make more sense. This would also call for smaller class sizes to be enacted.
Certain caveats would need to exist. As a developmental educator I would retain the idea of being five years old as a minimum for entry though I would allow testing of four-and-a-half year olds. I would mandate preschool on at least a part-time basis and by this I do not mean, mini-academies, I refer to PRE-schools that focus on large motor development and socialization through play. These are areas that all primary educators recognize are sadly lacking in many of our current students.
I would also continue the long-standing practice of no double retention in schools. That is to say I would not want to see a thirteen year old in fifth grade. If a child has been retained in one grade in elementary school, they should not be retained again in that school. Inability to complete grade level objectives more than one year in six would suggest that educators and support professionals need to offer more specialized assistance to a student, not simply make them do it over again. Finally, I would ask that parents and legislators realize this is not about failure — it is about success. Our goal should not be to punish the student for struggling to learn but to celebrate their progress toward learning more. This can only be accomplished through adequate funding and a renewed dedication to the idea that educational professionals not only understand what they are doing but are the best ones to frame how they do it.