Should Connecticut schools end social promotion?

  • Updated: September 17, 2012 at 1:44 PM by Zachary Janowski
  • Updated: September 7, 2012 at 2:58 PM by Zachary Janowski

This year Connecticut was regrettably recognized for having the most dramatic achievement gap in the country. These results suggest that a serious problem exists in our public schools, but a recent study looking at the practice of social promotion and other reforms may offer solutions to Connecticut’s education dilemma.

The Manhattan Institute along with the University of Colorado studied what happened when Florida ended social promotion and implemented other reforms in its public schools.

Social promotion is a catch phrase describing the practice of moving students on to the next grade whether or not they have learned the necessary material in their current grade.

The goal of social promotion is to keep students with their peers, but critics say the practice is counterproductive.

According to the study, published in Education Next, the end of social promotion in third grade resulted in a drastic increase in student performance in both third and fourth grade.

“Among the 50 states, Florida’s gains on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) between 1992 and 2011 ranked second only to Maryland’s,” said Marcus Winters, the study’s lead researcher. He argues these gains are due in part to the retention of students who were not prepared to move on.

Starting in 2003, third graders were required to meet certain standards in order to move on to fourth grade, which resulted in 11.7% of third graders being retained, a sharp increase from 2.9% prior to 2003. Winters asserts that retention benefited both the retained students and those who moved onto fourth grade. Students in fourth grade not only scored higher the following year but initial third grade students also performed better.

In 2012, close to 6,000 third graders in Connecticut received a below basic score in reading on the CMT, but many of these students were likely allowed to move on to fourth grade. While students fared better in writing and math, close to 3,000 students scored below basic in writing and 2,400 in math.

This means that up to 1 in 7 students in Connecticut could be retained if the state implemented a reform requiring at least basic test results before moving on to fourth grade.

School districts in Connecticut do not openly advertise their stance on social promotion. The state did attempt to ban the practice in 1999, but the legislation was unsuccessful.

Florida, like Connecticut was once experiencing many of the same problems with its education system, but through reforms has been able to improve student performance. Connecticut must look to mirror these results.

In casual conversation with teachers from three districts located throughout Connecticut, they said retention is not generally used but instead parents are given the option to hold their child back.

Many parents decide against it, leaving teachers to intervene with targeted methods to encourage further progress.

However, these initiatives have not brought about greater academic success.

The study also discussed other reforms implemented by Florida.

Student success is tied to teacher evaluations in Florida which promotes greater accountability among educators. Districts such as New Haven already employ this practice and have been able to create incentives for better performance.

“Most everybody picked up their game in the district,” New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. told New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.

While analyzing the impact of this program will take time, many are optimistic about its potential.

Connecticut has a long road ahead when it comes to improving public schools and closing the achievement gap. By looking at reforms that have helped Florida schools – such as greater teacher accountability and the ending of social promotion – Connecticut has the chance to make great strides in improving its public schools.

Kelly Delaney is an intern at the Yankee Institute. She is currently working toward a doctorate in political science with a concentration in American politics and international relations from the University of Connecticut. She lives in West Hartford.