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Social promotion hurdle falls

Susan Notes:

Imagine: letting local school personnel decide.

It's good the State Board of Education can admit they made a mistake. Needless to say, reader comments at the newspaper site are ugly and uglier.

by Lynn Bonner

RALEIGH The state policy intended to curb social promotion using test scores will die this year, and education officials acknowledge that the decade long effort did not work.

The State Board of Education is set to vote today to let local school districts decide whether third-, fifth- and eighth-graders who fail end-of-grade tests should be allowed to advance to the next grade. In 2000 and 2001, the board enacted a policy that made those grades "gateways," meaning that students had to pass end-of-grade tests to be promoted.

But the policy is not strictly followed. State law requires districts to set up ways for parents to discuss decisions not to promote students, and parents routinely appeal school decisions to make students repeat grades. Districts allow students to advance if they meet certain conditions, even if they fail the tests.

The vote to knock down the promotion hurdles comes as the board considers sweeping changes to the ways students are tested and schools are judged. The new student testing scheme will put more emphasis on teachers' evaluations of student progress throughout the school year.

This year, the board considered information from the state Department of Public Instruction that showed the proportion of students who repeated third, fifth and eighth grades after the gateway policy was established was not much different than before the practice began. Promoting students who fail end-of-grade tests is common.

"They've been gateways in name only," said Bill Harrison, State Board of Education chairman. "We don't have a way to enforce it." The board won't continue supporting policies that don't work, he said.

Time better spent

Schools spend a lot of time and money on evaluations and appeals after students fail tests, Superintendent June Atkinson said. That time could be spent more productively helping students, she said.

Promotion decisions should not hinge on whether students pass one test, said representatives from the N.C. Association of Educators.

Dropping the gateway policy "is just saying that the local districts can use discretion," said Sheri Strickland, NCAE president. "That is exactly what's been happening."

Charlotte News-Observer



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