Social Promotion and Grade Retention:
A guide to understanding new California laws affecting student promotion.
For the past several years the Governor of California and the California Department of Education have been addressing the issues of school and student accountability. One of the problems that have been evident is that some students have been promoted from one grade to the next without basic reading, math and language arts skills needed to be successful in middle and high school classes. Moreover, these students have then graduated from high school unable to complete the basic requirements of the work setting and adult life. The social promotion of unprepared students from one grade level to the next often occurred because research indicated that retention in the same grade level did not help children catch up and in many cases had negative consequences on retained attitudes and self-esteem of students.
Neither social promotion nor retention is appropriate by itself for students who are not meeting high academic standards. Students who are promoted without regard to their achievement tend to fall even further behind their classmates as they move through school. At the same time, holding students back to repeat a grade without changing instructional strategies is ineffective. The achievement of retained students after repeating a grade still lags behind the achievement of their peers, and retention also greatly increases the likelihood that a student will drop out of school.
National and state leaders have called for an end to social promotion, emphasizing that passing a student along in school when they are unprepared denies the student access to opportunities at the next grade level of school, and sends a message to students that little is expected from them and that they have little worth. In California laws were passed requiring school districts to address the serious problem of non-achieving students by developing a promotion/retention policy, including appropriate academic intervention.