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  March 21, 2004

Ending Social Promotion So Our Kids Can Learn
By Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg

This week, I want to clear the air about the Department of Education’s new policy ending the discredited practice of social promotion — both what it means, and what it doesn’t mean, for the future of our schoolchildren.

Starting this year, 3rd graders who haven’t yet mastered essential skills in reading, writing, and math will no longer simply be passed on to 4th grade. Instead, they’ll get immediate, focused, personal attention from specially trained teachers to help them learn, both during the rest of this school year, and also in summer school classes. We’ve budgeted some $41 million for such instruction.

We chose 3rd grade as the place to end social promotion for several good reasons. By 4th grade, students are supposed to move from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” And if they can’t read, they can’t learn. As they get older, the odds against helping students meet demanding standards get much, much longer. But with kids who are 8 or 9 years old, we’ve still got a good chance of helping them succeed — and that’s just what we’re going to do.

Students who are promoted without a firm grasp of the basic tools of learning aren’t being done any favors. The City Department of Education’s statistics show that more than 80% of 3rd graders who were working below grade level in 1999 were still performing well below grade level four years later, in the 7th grade. Some people call that social promotion; I call it social demotion. By offering excuses instead of intervention and early help — by ignoring problems rather than confronting them — we’ve been failing our children. That failure is our city’s great shame, and we’re putting an end to it.

Many others agree that we need to end social promotion. Former President Bill Clinton said “Students are often passed from grade to grade regardless of whether they have mastered required material and are academically prepared to do the work at the next level. This practice is called social promotion. For many students, the ultimate consequence is that they fall further and further behind, and leave school ill equipped for college and lacking the skills needed for employment. This situation is unacceptable for students, teachers, employers and taxpayers. That is why I have repeatedly challenged states and school districts to end social promotions – to require students to meet rigorous academic standards at key transition points in their schooling, and to end the practice of promoting students without regard to how much they have learned. As every parent knows, students must earn promotion through effort and achievement, not simply by accumulating time in school.”

Former Mayor Giuliani said “We have to begin imposing standards or students will continue to fall behind, have unrealistic expectations about life, and make the education of those around them more difficult. But ultimately, if a student fails to meet basic grade level standards by the end of third grade, that student should have to repeat the third grade.”

Some defenders of this failed status quo have tried to say that we’ll be making promotions based on the results of a single test. That’s just not true. We’ve established a thorough appeals process. It requires teachers to evaluate every student who has scored at the lowest level — Level One — in either reading or math tests. Teachers can overrule test results if they’re not true indications of student skills. Students invited to attend the new Summer Success Academy will also have a chance to retake the tests in August.

The State Legislature gave the Mayor control of the school system so that we could have accountability and results — not the discord and inaction that plagued the old Board of Education. We’ve made great strides in many areas. But social promotion is one of the system’s most fundamental flaws.

Critics say they want to end social promotion, too — but just not this year. They’ve been saying that for 20 years. That inertia has doomed tens of thousands of children to failure. Enough is enough. Now it’s time to pull together and do what’s right for our kids.