At the April 18 meeting of School District 65’s Board Policy Committee, Board members and administrators reviewed the District’s policy on promotion. John Price, Assistant Superintendent of Schools, presented recommendations about promotion and retention that, he said, “walk a fine line between two mutually exclusive requirements: the State policy on social promotion and what we want to do.”

State guidelines and policy recommendation oppose social promotion, Mr. Price told the RoundTable.

The present standard for promotion at District 65 is a decision “based on successful completion of the curriculum, attendance, and performance based on meeting District standards. Other information may include Illinois Standards Achievement tests (ISAT), adopted nationally normed reference tests, or any other criteria established by the Board of Education.”

The District is “trying to make a policy that avoids promoting students automatically, but also takes into account a wide range of student strengths and needs – not just a test score or a single grade in a class,” Mr. Price said.

Mr. Price recommended replacing the language in the current policy with a more student-centered policy: “In the decision of a retention or promotion of a student, all considerations will be given to what is best for the student.” Staff members involved in the decision whether to promote or retain a student will be able to use more criteria and information based on the individual student, including teacher observation, consultations with parents or guardians, input from program coordinators, and specialized diagnostic testing.

In addition, “the school will consider not only the student’s academic achievement and needs, but the student’s age, and social and emotional maturity,” and the District will “ensure that students’ learning environments are appropriate to their individual needs.” Students with an individualized education plan (IEP) will be deemed to have met grade-level standards if they have met their IEP goals.

Schools at times advance students to the next grade even when they have not demonstrated sufficient mastery of grade-level academics, a policy called “social promotion.”  The District’s present policy proscribes social promotion: “Social promotion is not allowed.”

Retaining students in the same grade for an additional year, however, has shown to have high societal costs. Studies, including one in 2004 from the Chicago Consortium on School Research, have shown that the dropout rate by age 19 for Chicago Public School students who were retained increased by about 30%.

Another recommendation is that the school notify parents as early as possible in the school year if a student is lagging in achievement, and the family be involved in the promotion/retention decision.    

The recommendation to consider additional factors in deciding whether or not to promote a student “complicates that decision” but “brings more people to the table. We will consider the student’s age, social-emotional status and strengths … so we are making decisions that will be in the best interests of the child,” Mr. Price said.

Board members discussed what happens to students promoted without having met the academic standards.

“Do we know how many there are?” asked Omar Brown.

“We don’t know,” Mr. Price said.

“It’s probably those students scoring below the 40th percentile,” said Candance Chow. “Eighteen percent of [last year’s] eighth-graders were in that group. About half of them have IEPs, so about 9%” did not meet academic standards.

The Policy Committee accepted the recommended additions, deletions and replacements but voted to keep in the mandate that students who are not promoted “shall be required to receive appropriate supports.”