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[Susan notes: This strong letter gets up close and personal]

Published in St. Petersburg Times
02/17/2003

To the editor


Re: Johnny can't read? Then Johnny can't pass, Feb. 10.

The accountability machine rolls on with reckless disregard for the well-being of children. Fueled by political rhetoric and an uninformed public, it is like a wildfire with no rain in sight. Retaining children in their grade is one of the most heavily researched topics in education, and the findings are pervasive and unambiguous. Retaining students one grade doubles the chances they will not graduate, and retaining students twice virtually guarantees they will not be sitting in the stadium on graduation night.

Retaining students has a negative effect on their achievement in later grades and produces a negative attitude toward school. Retention increases the likelihood that students will drop out, negatively impacts self-esteem and isolates them from their peer group. Furthermore, retention is applied to racial and ethnic groups disproportionately, and you would be hard pressed to find an incarcerated individual who had not been retained.

In the words of Peter Sacks, author of Standardized Minds, ". . . the magnitude of the deleterious effects of flunking children are enormous, greater than virtually all other conceivable correlations that can be studied in education. The strength of the association suggests that grade retention may cause -- rather than simply be associated with -- a child's later problems in school." Do we really want to retain 30 to 40 percent of our students based on a single test score?

Retention does not help your children it only punishes your children. Betty Coxe, Florida's Deputy Education Commissioner knows the truth about retention, yet she supports legislation that would have forced school districts to retain 47 percent of Florida's fourth- graders. Shame on you, Betty.

Retaining children is not about local control and it is not about accountability. It's about gaining ground politically, re-election campaigns and distracting us from the miserable condition of our state's economy.

-- Ray Gadd, supervisor of psychological services, Pasco County School Board, Land O' Lakes

Ray Gad


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