A few reasons why social promotion is just all-wrong!

Social promotion, the practice of allowing students to progress from one grade to the next without their learning in the classroom and improving test scores, may truly lead to behavioral issues and higher dropout ratesAccording to one report in Education Week, social promotion began as a response to students who were falling behind.  The student’s psychological health and social life is supposed to be at the root of social promotion.  Social promotion advocates claim that holding students back and forcing them to repeat a grade causes them to have a “negative” education experience.

“According to the American Federation of Teachers, a majority of teachers said they promoted students up that were not prepared for the next grade level,” Grace Chen a teacher who has taught in a low-income middle school wrote in the Public School Review, “Many education experts suspect that because retention is generally used as a last resort, social promotion may be much more prevalent than the alternative of holding students back.”
Chen continued, “[R]esearch also suggests that social promotion does little to advance a child’s academic career. Opponents of the practice claim that social promotion merely hides the failures of the schools to properly educate students and does nothing to help those children catch up academically to their peers. In fact, without fulfilling the need to repeat a full year of schooling, overwhelmed children may tune out and develop bad attitudes about the educational world at large. These students also face a higher drop-out rate in later years because they are simply unable to handle the increasing load of schoolwork, tests and grades.”
While it may sound good and sweet to promote students, our kids, even when they’re not ready for the next grade and will find it even harder to keep up, we need to look at what is best for the child.  If a child cannot read by third grade, why should he or she be sent to the next grade?  Is it fair to potentially force the next grade’s teacher to teach a child who is behind the grade level she is teaching?  Perhaps we should focus more on teaching and less on what grades and ages should “properly” relate to the other.  Perhaps we should put the child’s well-being over peer pressures and redefine the meaning of “peer”.  Too often we forget that not all children will learn at the same speed.
We should particularly look at the area of reading, in regard to social promotion.  Children learn at different speeds.  As a child I didn’t read until first grade (nearly seven), while my younger sister read at three.  My sister and I were at completely different learning speeds as children (not to say I was “behind”, at three– even two– I had long passages of scripture memorized, but didn’t read).  Once I learned to read I loved it and devoured nearly any book I could find.  By the time she reached middle school my sister was quite the speed reader, reading faster than me, though I had finished high school.  Similarly, it has been easy for me to see while working with kids that each child is an individual and develops at his or her own level following his or her own interests.  In an age where individuality is considered and diversity is encouraged, I often wonder why our education system has not developed farther, or often takes the wrong paths.  The right path might mean summer reading classes for a student.  Or it might mean summer reading programs rewarding achievement.
Often the key word to learning is “interest”– cultivating a child’s interest and rewarding achievement via an incentive of some sort is an important idea we should pick up.  I really liked the idea of Governor Martinez’ reading program with incentives, which she encouraged this past summer.  Rewarding achievement is a key to success and played a great part in my education.  I have observed that parents who encourage their kids with incentives often have students who are the most successful.  Sadly, if parents do not take the initiative to encourage their children, this responsibility is left to the government.
Regardless, of the many factors  where social promotion fails, the greatest thing that is wrong with the idea is that it rewards underachievement instead of praising success.  Social promotion fails to reward the kids who are successful, while “promoting” into a confusing new world, the students who struggle; this makes studies even harder for the struggling student that is supposedly the one who should benefit.  We cannot say each child is at the same exact level.  Each has an ability to learn and if properly encouraged, he or she will succeed.  We can and must stop the practice of making education problems worse by passing the buck to the next grade and teacher with hopes that the student’s struggles will somehow magically disappear.  We need to end social promotion in New Mexico because our kids deserve better and we must do what is best for them, our future.

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