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  September 12, 2004

Building a Brighter Future for Our Children
By Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg

Last week, the new school year began for New York City’s 1.1 million public school students. And this school year, we’re going to make sure that the youngsters who are preparing to enter the middle grades get the skills they need to do the work that’s expected of them. We’re going to build on the demonstrated success of our 3rd grade promotion policy, and ask the city’s Educational Policy Panel to end social promotion in the 5th grade.

Here’s why. Most students graduating from 5th grade go on from elementary to middle schools. That’s a crucial time of transition. In middle school, students spend their days going from class to class, which means they often receive less individual attention from their teachers. They’re expected to do more of their work independently. The complexity of coursework increases, and the pace accelerates. All of these changes present difficult challenges for even high-performing students; students who are academically unprepared can be overwhelmed. And if students lose their way in middle school, the chances of rescuing them in high school are slim.

Ending social promotion is a common sense policy designed to improve the odds for all our students. We’re going to identify the 5th graders who need extra help, and provide it to them. Starting next month, we’ll commit $20 million to an array of interventions similar to those that have been, and will continue to be, used to help 3rd graders. That includes classroom tutoring and computer-based learning, not only during the regular school day, but also before and after school, on weekends, and during school holidays. It also includes involving parents more closely in their children’s education.

Just take a look at what happened during the Summer Success Academy, which was attended by 3rd graders who were at risk of not being promoted based on their test scores in reading, math, or both. Parents across the city seized on this as a golden opportunity to get their sons and daughters the extra help they needed. And the results? Better than 50% of 3rd graders who attended at least ten days of the Summer Success Academy improved their reading and math performance enough to be promoted. Tomorrow, they’re going into 4th grade, ready to do 4th grade work.

That’s what we need to do with our 5th graders as well. Every year for the last five years, an average of 12,500 5th graders who have scored at “Level 1” on reading and math tests—which means they are utterly unprepared for 6th grade work—have been promoted anyway. And there are middle schools in our city where fewer than 10% of students meet the basic standards of competency at their grade levels.

This has to stop. Every year that we wait represents another year of lost opportunity, and thousands more lost students. Schools Chancellor Joel Klein puts it this way: Let’s educate our students before we promote them—not promote them before we educate them. I couldn’t say it any better myself.