Denise Davison's son graduated from a La Palma elementary school Wednesday. Time for joy and celebration--except that he's one of twin sons, and the other won't be going to junior high with him.
Hers is an extreme example of how a new policy of holding back failing students is affecting families.
After a year of warnings and the looming possibility of repeating a grade, students and their families are finally facing the painful word about who's moving ahead and who's staying behind.
Under a new state law, taking effect for the first time in most of the county's school districts, students who don't meet established academic standards will not be allowed to enter the next grade in the fall.
Davison is trying to alter her son's fate by filing an appeal with the Cypress School District. But some facts can't be changed: DeVon Davison got an F in language arts and scored in the 29th percentile on one section of the Stanford 9 test.
Educators say they have worked to stay in touch with parents of at-risk students during the year--holding several one-on-one conferences, drawing up study plans to improve grades and sending home progress notes--precisely so that the final notice wouldn't be a shock.
And most schools offered extra help to lagging students after school and on the weekends to boost their achievement.
But many educators are finding that parents didn't fully accept the message until it became final.
"The realization is hard, because you always hope it's going to change," said Carolyn Houston, principal of Anaheim's South Middle School. "On the other hand, we don't want to send students on to high school unprepared. I think parents understand that, because we've been good about keeping in communication with them."
Davison insists that her son is ready for junior high and that his problems have more to do with organization and discipline than a poor grasp of academics.
"I'm not going to put this on him, especially with him having a twin brother who's going on and leaving him behind," Davison said. "I don't think it's in his best interest."
But it's more unfair to allow unprepared students to struggle in a higher grade than to have them stay back a year, said Supt. William Eller of the Cypress School District. Davison's sons attend Cypress district schools.
"I'd rather see a student spend an [extra] year in elementary school and be bolstered by an environment that is very supportive and focuses on skill development," Eller said. "You do a disservice if you matriculate them through the grades when they're not proficient enough to do the work."
Eller has 30 days to review Davison's appeal, and she can take his decision to the school board if she disagrees with it.
In the meantime, Davison said DeVon is moping around the house and offering to give up having fun at summer camp to hit the books for three months before classes begin in September.
But Davison appears to be part of a small minority of parents who actually contest a school's decision about promotion.
In the Anaheim Union High School District, which began holding back underachieving seventh- and eighth-graders earlier than required by the state, only a few appeals were filed last year, said Tracy Brennan, director of instruction.
And in Huntington Beach's Ocean View School District, one administrator said she expects no more than a couple dozen appeals.
"We've been telling parents since October," said Karen Colby, director of curriculum and instruction. "There should be no surprises at all for parents or students."