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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

8th Grade Retention Vote at March 17th Panel for Educational Policy

On Monday, the Panel for Educational Policy voted to approve the Chancellor's plan to hold back children in the 8th grade based on standardized test scores. I voted against the policy and ended up being the lone dissenting voice. The statement released prior to the vote by Manhattan Borough President Stringer, who has appointed me to the Panel can be found here.

Like most people, I don't think we should push unprepared kids into high school. I don't support social promotion. Yet the proposal that Chancellor Klein put forward for approval had no plan to provide services to the retained children, let alone deal with the pervasive problems of middle schools. Panel members were asked to put faith in the "forthcoming" plan that DOE is developing to turn around middle schools. The end of the administration strikes me as an odd time to start working on a plan for the weakest part of the system, especially when federal NAEP tests have shown no progress in 8th grade under the current administration.

I've looked closely at all the research on these programs to hold kids back based on test scores and pretty much across the board the research says they don't work. A very comprehensive study in the Chicago school system showed that the retained children had higher drop out rates and overall the program did not help despite costing hundreds of millions to fund another year of school.

The DOE has contracted with a research and consulting firm, RAND, to study the implementation and success of its program yet no findings have been released to the public. I have been fighting over the last two months to have results released to Panel for Educational Policy members but we were only given the 479 pages of reports late Saturday, without sufficient time to review them prior to the vote. The DOE will not release any findings until August 2009 despite the fact that much of the information is complete and would be highly valuable to the various efforts focused on improving the middle schools.

As I've come to expect, the Chancellor's plan lacks any semblance of implementation planning. DOE believes somewhere between 5,000 - 18,000 additional kids will repeat 8th grade. Tweed has not explained where they'll put these kids in middle schools that are already overcrowded. We have severe overcrowding in many parts of Manhattan, especially in Districts 6 and 2 and increasingly 3. Class sizes of 29 or higher are already typical in 8th grade in contrast to 20-22 in the rest of the state.

Like many debates about school policy, the administration has framed it in terms of false choices: social promotion vs. retention. But social promotion is not the only alternative to the Chancellor's policy of test-driven retention. What we've been saying is to instead find these kids early and provide the remediation instead of waiting for them to fail. DOE has an $80 million dollar student achievement database and the most extensively tested student body in the free world yet they can't figure out which kids need help and give it to them?

Instead of paying to simply repeat 8th grade, we should invest in creating middle school environments that are more attractive for both students and teachers -- small classes, enrichment programs, the arts, sports, after-school programs and proactive interventions for struggling students.


jd2718 said...

I am assuming that they nowhere indicated how many of the retained students they expect to eventually graduate.

An honest answer would be scary.


Pissed Off said...

The media portrayed parents as people who wanted their kids passed along, with no accountability. They totally missed what you were saying (or maybe they deliberately missed what you were saying.)

Anonymous said...

I think it's a good thing. My son comes home with a reading level of 3rd grade and he manages to pass with a very low average. How is my son expected to do well when the school continues to pass him?! I am 100% with retention. I think some parents should understand there are too many of our children in highschool who can not write or read at an 8th grade level.

Patrick Sullivan said...


According to the mayor and chancellor, their 3rd, 5th and 7th grade retention programs implemented years ago have ensured that any child advancing to the next grade was ready. This week's vote was about 8th grade. While it's not clear in which grade your child is currently enrolled, your comments offer proof the DOE's policies are not working. As a member of the Panel for Educational Policy, I am responsible for making sure the DOE implements policies that actually improve the quality of education and don't just make for good press releases. Simply saying they will hold kids back without presenting a coherent plan for either helping the retained kids or fixing middle schools is wholly irresponsible.