Wednesday, December 06, 2006

It’s Easy to Comment on Social Promotion, It’s Hard to Live It

I stumbled across this post by Ken DeRosa over at D-Ed Reckoning on a topic near and dear to my heart, retaining kids.

It’s not very good, for a variety of reasons.

  1. “Instead of focusing on outcomes, educators want to focus on the process of education.” Perhaps Ken has attached some sort of a sneer to the word that I didn’t get, but I know that at my school the outcomes are critical. We know who failed their initial screens—that’s how they get placed in the appropriate reading groups. We know who didn’t pass the WASL and in what section—that’s who gets the remediation this year.
  2. “When there is no agreed upon outcome that can be reliably measured, there is no choice but to keep moving children ahead regardless of their skill level.” In talks that I’ve had with our veteran (read: old) staff members they’ve unanimously said that it is far more difficult to retain kids today than it was 20 years ago precisely because they are expected to show evidence of the child’s skill level. That’s a function of the research, which shows that retention almost never works, and the gauntlet thrown down by our school psychologists over the last 10 years has been to make the case overwhelmingly that retention is appropriate for this child.
  3. “And it doesn’t help that there is some touch-feely junk science research out there claiming that kids are more likely to drop out if they are held back.” Blanket condemnation—the last refuge of the scoundrel. Dismissing the cumulative evidence that retention has negative consequences out of hand is intellectually dishonest and agenda driven; if retaining kids is a good thing, why can’t he cite the valid science that says so?
  4. In the latter half of his post he does a nice job of explaining the importance of background knowledge, but fails to tie it to his central theme about social promotion convincingly. When you retain a student you’re taking away a year of their life—could they be better served by an extended school day, by full day Kindergarten, by lengthening the school year, by making sure they have access to quality pre-school? Why consider retaining a student only to expose them to the same variables that made retention necessary in the first place?

I’ve retained kids. The little boy I held back last year is taking off and has a great chance of being just fine in his academic career. A different boy from four years ago is floundering in special ed. It’s one of the hardest things I do; anyone who thinks it’s cut-and-dried hasn’t been there.


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