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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA / A news summary | The Regional

End of Social Promotion Forces 5,000 to Be Held Back

August 31, 2000

ORANGE COUNTY — As children return to school next week, a new state law banning social promotion will force more than 5,000 students to return to the same grade--far more than ever before.

Ending the widespread practice of advancing students despite failing marks has children--as well as their parents and teachers--struggling with the fact that they were flunked.

Bonnie Wong, a fifth-grade teacher at Roosevelt Elementary School in Anaheim, agonized over her decision to hold back three students. Wong said one of her students began weeping. A second student, however, vowed to improve.

Close to 20,000 Orange County students spent hours in summer school classes, Saturday programs and after-school tutoring to avoid being left behind. Most caught up, but thousands did not.

"It's heart-wrenching," said Wong. "You want to see them succeed, and they are trying. And it's tough on the parents. They're so proud of their kids, and some of the kids have more education than they do, so they can't help at home."

Sylvia Martinez, a parent at Valencia Park Elementary School in Fullerton, said the news that her 8-year-old daughter, Jasmine, might have to repeat second grade was "a good wake-up call . . . and a huge shock for both of us."

The end to social promotion was triggered by California students who reached high school without having mastered reading and arithmetic.

State legislators last year forced local school districts to draft new policies to end social promotion. The state is also giving districts $105 million to identify at-risk students and get help for them before they drop hopelessly behind.

In most Orange County districts, children who are behind because they are still learning English are exempt from being retained this year.

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