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Social promotion, a long practiced, often frowned upon method of advancement has caused educators to consider whether to promote or to retain students across the country in efforts to cause students to take accountability for their own education. Many educators disagree with what is the best method of helping students. From an analysis of several pieces of literature a comparison and contrast can be made from differing viewpoints about the subject of social promotion. The success of the student is the overall goal with any decision made to promote or retain.
Social Promotion Is Not the Only Answer to Encourage Student Achievement
A student missing over half of the school year for what ever reason, a student who fails all of his/her classes, and a student who because of behaviors spends more time in the office than actually in the classroom, have a lot more in common than realized. Seemingly each of these situations should be looked at differently on a case by case basis. All of these examples however, have something in common. All of these students under most school districts would be socially promoted to the next grade on the track to graduation. This is an epidemic plaguing many districts and students with grave consequences. People do not understand how consequences outweigh the benefits when considering social promotion
Social Promotion has been a long overused alternative to holding students accountable for their own educations. Social promotion however, is not an admitted practice. Social promotion rather is an inevitable option that isn't decided upon, it just happens to occur. The ideas behind social promotion are intended to assist low achieving students by allowing them to stay on course with their peers throughout their education (Picklo & Christenson, 2005). Ten years ago, a message from President Clinton called for the end of social promotion. He believed that the practice of allowing students, who have failed to make minimum academic achievement to pass on to the next level in school or grade, was only a disservice to the communities in which they live (Hennick, 2008).
Socially promoting students has been accepted with the best interest of the student in mind. The best interest of the student in mind is considering the social and psychological wellbeing of each student. The question commonly asked is whether or not holding a student back is doing more harm for a student psychologically than what the consequences are for socially promoting the student. This ideal is not universally accepted however. The push for grade retention as the best option for improving student test scores and accountability shows that social promotion is not the answer for improving academic achievement.
Benefits and Disadvantages of Social Promotion
In a longitudinal study (Livingston & Livingston, 2002), cases can be made against passing legislation to ban social promotion. Many administrators and teachers feel that the success on standardized state tests should not determine if student will be able to continue on to the next chapter in their school lives. The failing of standardized tests and reliability on whether or not a student is successful discourages students from making even a little bit of progress towards graduation. Many school districts do not necessarily ban social promotion, rather look for ways that social promotion helps students succeed in life and school.
Not all social promotion is due to poor grades. Some social promotion is pursued due to the inability of the students. Many students learn from social situations. The greatest lesson some students learn is how to interact with their peers. Causing a student to repeat the same class again with a new group of people does not allow these students the chance to grow with the group they began with in school. The question is, do the benefits of social promotion outweigh the consequences to the academic achievement after being socially promoted? According to a study (Jimerson, Pletcher & Gradon, 2006) students who are socially promoted tend to have fewer negative consequences within their education than students who are retained to retake a class or grade level again. This method can cause fewer dropouts from students who are socially promoted than otherwise would be seen.
Social promotion can be an attractive option for students who cannot and will not be able to meet the standards of the average student. Social promotion keeps one thing constant in the life of a student who cannot already achieve the same. It causes a student to stay with their peers so they feel more connected with a group of students they started school with, and to not feel like the only one who cannot pass tests to move on to the next level of their education. Social promotion has been used for many decades with the special education system (Frey, 2005). This is not to say that special education students shouldn't be held to the same standard, it is just an option for students who in special cases cannot and will not ever be able to achieve the same academic success as their peers. The success of some of these students is not to master content rather it is based on learning how to interact on a daily basis with their peers. Their objective and greatest learning curve is to learn how to create relationships, and to learning social skills (Livingston & Livingston, 2002).
Mr. Chesteen, Vice Principal at North Middle School in Sioux City, Iowa (personal communication, November 3, 2009) states that social promotion does nothing but an injustice to students as it allows them to complete grades and classes without putting the proper amount of effort and importance to their schooling. He believes that students should be accountable for their education and if they can do anything they want, or miss an obnoxious amount of school they can still go on to the next school year. Many educators share this viewpoint.
Benefits and Disadvantages of Retention and Other Options
Many studies (Jimmerson, 2006) have shown that social promotion has a more negative impact on a student than grade retention and other intervention options. Many different options including but not limited to preschool intervention programs, comprehensive programs to promote social and academic development, summer school, after school programs, multi age classrooms, school based mental health programs, parent involvement and early reading programs have shown to have more positive outcomes for students (Jimmerson, Peltcher, & Gradon, 2006).
Many interventions are key for a student who is at risk for failure. Many benefit from less drastic measures like tutoring, early education programs, and multi age classrooms. The more drastic approach is to cause a student to repeat a grade. The most common grades to repeat are within the elementary level. Although this method is the most aggressive method of intervention students as a whole can benefit causing them to become one more year mature and to maybe receive that extra help that is necessary for them to be successful. Retaining a student is only done to be a benefit to the student. Picklo and Christenson (2005) believe that grade retention holds a student accountable for their actions and their own successes in life. Teaching students' responsibility for their own success and a true caring notion for their own well being and achievement will better a student's life.
Other methods like after school tutoring, early intervention programs, and added mental and emotional support seem to do more for the wellbeing and achievement of a student (Jimmerson et al, 2006). Research has shown that students who are positively reinforced feel like they will achieve more and in turn seem to perform better on standardized tests and in core classes. The tests and the core classes are the basis for the decision of whether to retain or promote a child who is struggling.
Although interventions and retention sound like a good idea many educators sway away from these options as they can cause even more problems for the students. The students seem to have more emotional and social issues than if they were socially promoted. Students needing the approval from their peers do not receive this approval as they are repeating the year again without their peers. This can cause students to be less successful than students who were socially promoted. Dropout rates seem to go up when students are retained. This does not mean that students are dropping out more. Students who have to repeat a grade get discouraged and become frustrated when younger students succeed in the same class, even though the material is the same as the year before. Students do not like feeling inadequate, and many times people who are retained feel that way.
If student achievement is truly the main concern of education, student success in life is the end goal of a fine mix between retention and promotion needs to be embraced. This provides the best option for a child during the times of their greatest development. Students' own feelings may need to be considered when making the decision whether to promote or to retain. Each position has draw backs. Holmes (2006) states that students are far more likely to drop out of school if there are retained to repeat another year in school. He believes that long term damage to the psyche of students can occur when they are humiliated by having to repeat a grade. In other studies (Picklo & Christianson, 2005) many students are being held accountable for their education by being held back. The student must become more successful in their education because maturity levels and understanding levels have increased student achievement and confidence.
When incorporating many interventions students are better able to succeed in life. Their social, education, and emotional needs are met. Over all when students are socially promoted they receive somewhat of a false recognition of something they are incapable of achieving. This opinion can be combated by various intervention methods. The long term outcome is what is important. Short term successes can create a beneficial outcome for long term success for the students who are retained. Social promotion is ‘however' not the best way to encourage student achievement and accountability of students.