Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Consequence of Social Promotion

It seems that the effect of social promotion policies in California, the state has imposed a standardized test on graduating seniors to see if they really deserve a diploma. A lawsuit has been filed, complaining that if students pass all of their classes they should get a diploma even if they fail the test. TChris at TalkLeft suggests that kids in poor schools, where the failure rates are the highest, probably don't get the same level of educational opportunity as kids from afflluent schools.

To me, the test and lawsuit highlight two problems: First, the problem of social promotion. Second, catering to the lowest common denominator. It may well be that students in poor schools need even more academic support than they presently receive - and if the state is serious about making a high school diploma mean something, it should seek to provide that support such that kids have the opportunity to do well - and fail kids who lack the aptitude or initiative to succeed.

"Oh," the lament goes... "if you fail kids you'll stigmatize them and make them more likely to drop out, then they won't get their diploma." Is it supposed to be better to have kids who function far below grade level sit through class after class, get "socially promoted", and then fail a standardized final examination such that they don't get their diploma anyway?

In relation to those who are advancing this lawsuit, is it better that a functionally illiterate kid be "socially promoted' and never tested in any meaningful way before he or she receives a high school diploma?

In relation to proponents of this test, is it better to avoid setting any intermediate standards which might identify the problem sooner, as opposed to testing kids on their way out the door when you no longer have to take any responsibility for the failure of the school system by bringing the low performers up to standard?


  1. "Better than" what? That the state provides a substandard education, then hits kids with a test their substandard education couldn't prepare them to pass?

  2. As I suggest, I don't see any particularly good actors here. Being complacent with a system which produces high school graduates with no qualification for the diploma isn't a good system - but in a sense that's what both proponents and opponents of the test seem to want.

    Proponents want to test at the last minute, so when they document the failure of certain schools or the poor education of certain students they can shrug and say, "Diploma or no, they graduated and they're not our problem."

    Opponents of the test seem to be putting a great deal of effort into saying, "All the dots were connected, so they should get a diploma even if they have an insufficient academic skill set," but that does nothing to actually help kids who have graduated (or will graduate in the future) who are functioning well below grade level.

    The test, or opposition to the test, seems to let all the activists and administrators feel good about themselves, while doing absolutely nothing for the kids.


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