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Standards Matter

Superintendent’s Column”

By Janet Barresi, State Superintendent of Public Instruction

Should people be allowed to practice medicine before they pass medical exams just as long as they are 25 or older?

Of course not, you’re thinking, what a silly question. But that is in essence what is happening when students are promoted to the next grade, even if they’re not ready.

“Social promotion” is the act of passing students from grade to grade, regardless of whether they have mastered the minimum skills required for their current grade level. The idea is that a child’s age and peer group are more important than the additional academic support the child needs.

It’s particularly troubling when this happens grade after grade, year after year. Deficits accumulate and students get farther and farther behind. They grow more frustrated – so much so that, by middle school,students begin to think about dropping out of school.

That is why I want an end to social promotion after the third grade and have made that reform key to my new “3Rs” to rethink, restructure and reform Oklahoma’s education system for the 21st century.

In kindergarten through third grade, students learn to read. After the third grade, student read to learn. If a child lacks reading skills, he will struggle mightily in the other subjects, such as science and social studies, in which reading skills are a prerequisite.

Fans of social promotion have made some outlandish arguments through the years, labeling grade retention as “elitist” or suggesting that it results in teenagers being schooled alongside elementary students.

In actuality, ending social promotion after the third grade is an effective early intervention strategy to ensure students are academicallysuccessful in later grades, and it has long had bipartisan support.

Bothformer presidents Clinton and Bush called for an end to social promotion and the current U.S. Secretary of Education has argued that a high-quality education is the civil rights issue of our time.

Several states and large school systems have recently passed laws to end social promotion. Florida saw improvement within a short period of time. In fact, a study by the Manhattan Institute found that Florida third-graders who were held back and given extra instruction actually outperformed their peers who were promoted.

I am pleased Oklahoma state Sen. Clark Jolley has filed Senate Bill 346 to stop social promotion in Oklahoma. His bill requires schools to retain third graders who score “Limited Knowledge” or lower on the state reading assessment and to give them the intensive instruction they need to be successful.

If we pass students from grade to grade regardless of whether they can read sufficiently, we do them no favors and are being anything but kind. What we’re essentially saying is that standards don’t matter and anything goes. We are tragically setting students up for certain failure and passing the buck on our duty to provide them a quality education.

I know we can do better, and legislation like SB 346 is a great start.

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