YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Right Time to Ban Social Promotions?

May 16, 1999|KARIMA A. HAYNES

Los Angeles Unified School District officials recently scaled back ambitious plans to end social promotion in the coming school year, citing financial and logistical hurdles.

Supt. Ruben Zacarias had announced in January that the district would identify at least 150,000 students at risk for failing and order them to attend summer school, Saturday sessions and after-school tutoring. Those plans were complicated by state law mandating that facilities for public school activities meet strict seismic guidelines and the fact that the district cannot legally require students to attend summer school. Now officials say the ban on social promotions--the practice of advancing students without requisite skills--is likely to be phased in a few grades at a time.

KARIMA A. HAYNES asked a district principal and a program coordinator for their views on the subject.

NICK A. VASQUEZ / 47, Santa Clarita; principal, Morningside Elementary School, San Fernando

As far as scaling down the plans to end social promotion are concerned, I think it is a wise move because everything was so ambitious. When you are going to change the structure of a school system, everyone within the educational community has to be involved in the redesign of the structure. We need to involve people who can bring up issues that others may not have thought about: Parents, teachers, administrators, plant managers, maintenance crews--they all provide valuable insights.

I am in favor of ending social promotion [because] it says that we are going to do something for our kids. We are going to hold ourselves accountable for putting together a program for them . . . so that we don't keep passing kids on who are deficient in skills.

In the past, the talk hadn't been so fervent and determined as it has been under Supt. Zacarias. The fact that our superintendent is being assertive in leading us makes me believe that this is something that is going to happen.

Social promotion sends a message to children that they don't have to work hard. A child might think that this is the expectation: "I don't know how to do this work at my grade level, and it seems to be OK because I keep getting promoted."

When I was a teacher, it always weighed heavily on my mind that I didn't reach every child. By the time they reached my fifth-grade class, they were already two years behind.

Morningside is instituting changes that will prepare our students to work at their grade level. We have a multi-pronged attack to end social promotion at our school. We have a reading program, we have analyzed our standardized test scores to see where we need to boost achievement, we have collaborative planning sessions and ongoing staff development sessions. All those things are going to prepare our students.

We have also started our Project GRAD [Graduation Really Achieves Dreams] program. The San Fernando cluster has been named the third Project GRAD site in the country. It is a program that will change the way we teach reading and math, and how we handle student discipline and community involvement. All my career I have wondered, "How can I help all the kids?" I feel now that there is hope for all of our kids and not just a few.

SUE GOLDBERG / 51, Agoura Hills; program coordinator, Sylvan Park Elementary School, Van Nuys

I am all for ending social promotion. The kids need to master the skills of the current grade before they can move on. Students are graduating from high school without knowing how to read. In our technologically advanced society, students who graduate without having mastered basic skills are not going to be able to get a job or provide for themselves or their families.

At our school, we have a reading intervention program called Success for All. We put a great deal of our funds toward this program, and we see that it's working. During Success for All time, the students go to different classrooms where they are taught on their grade level. Reading is a lot easier on the students because they are all getting the instruction they need. The object of the program is to get everyone on grade level or above.

I am concerned about the district's plan to end social promotion--as it is being presented--because it will mean that we will have to use part of our funds to pay for its intervention program. We are already paying for Success for All. I don't know where the money is going to come from.

Los Angeles Times Articles