Social Promotion

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Should failing students repeat a grade or stay with their peer? The pendulum has swung on this issue for the past three decades. Social promotion is the practice of promoting a student, usually a general education student, rather than a special education student, to the next grade despite their low achievement in order to keep them with social peers. It is sometimes referred to as promotion based on seat time, or the amount of time the child spent sitting in school, regardless of whether the child learned the necessary material. Advocates of social promotion argue that promotion is done so as not to harm the students' self-esteem, to keep students together by age, together with their age cohort, to facilitate student involvement in sports teams, and to allow a student who is strong in one area, but weak in another, and to advance a student further in the strong area. Social promotion began to spread in the 1930s along with concerns about the psychosocial effects of retention.[1] This trend reversed in the 1980s, as concern about slipping academic standards rose. In Canada and the United States, social promotion is normally limited to Kindergarten through the end of eighth grade, because comprehensive high schools, grades nine through twelve, are more flexible about determining which level of students take which classes due to the graduation requirements, which makes the concept of social promotion much less meaningful. The opposite, to "hold back" a student with poor academic achievement, is called grade retention. Grade retention or grade repetition is the process of having a student repeat a grade level, usually one previously failed. Students who repeat a grade are referred as "repeaters." Repeaters can be referred to as having been "held back". Research suggests that promoting unprepared students does little to increase their achievement or life chances. At the same time, research also shows 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). The practice of grade retention in the U.S. has been climbing steadily since the 1980s,[2] although local educational agencies may or may not follow this trend. For example, in 1982, New York City schools stopped social promotions. Within a few years, the problems caused by the change in policy lead the city to start social promotion again. In 1999, the city once again eliminated social promotion; it reinstated it after the number of repeaters had mounted to 100,000 by 2004, driving up costs and leading to cutbacks in numerous programs, including those for helping underachievers. Research by C.T. Holmes (1989) suggests that retention harms students' achievement, attendance records, personal adjustment in school, and attitudes toward school. At the same time, public opinion is strongly behind ending social promotion. About three-quarters of parents, and more than 80 percent of teachers and employers, think it is worse for a child struggling in school to be promoted to the next grade than to be held back. Only 24 percent of parents and 15 percent of teachers think it is worse for a student to have to repeat a grade. A full 87 percent of parents surveyed said they would approve of policies that require students to pass a test to be promoted, even if it meant their child would be left back (Public Agenda, 2003). Opponents of social promotion argue that it cheats children of education. When socially promoted children reach higher levels of education, they may be unprepared, may fail courses, and may not make normal progress towards graduation. Opponents of social promotion also argue that it has negative impacts. Students promoted to a class for which they are known to be unable to do the work are positioned...
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