Retention or Social Promotion  

February 26, 2019

It is confession time. For years I have talked about the ill effects of retention using research to support what I am saying. What I have not done is provide  schools and teachers with much in the way of alternatives. The fact is that neither retention or social promotion is the correct answer to a student struggling in school whether the struggle is academic, behavior, or social development. There are occasions when retention has worked, but research has not been successful in predicting when this is. I hope that this article is different. I hope that instead of providing lots of numbers that tell us why we should not retain students and why social promotion is no better, that I can talk about some other things that should help both at the school and the classroom level. 

Here are some alternatives to retention and social promotion that I found:

•  A system of communication that addresses cultural and language barriers. It also needs to create a school climate and culture that is welcoming to all parents and that helps parents feel comfortable working with the school as well as frequent communication.
•  Systematic assessment strategies that screen not only reading but math, behavior, and social emotional development. There also needs to be a progress monitoring process to determine when an intervention or strategy is effective, when it needs to be modified, and when additional sources need to be considered.  
•  Reading programs that include direct instructional strategies, especially for low performing students.   
•  Programs and systems that promote social and emotional adjustment as well as addressing behavior problems. 
•  Additional opportunities for instruction through after school programs and summer programs that provide instruction in the needed areas. 
•  Tutoring and mentoring programs for specific academic and social skills.
•  Moving away from “silos” in education to a more comprehensive and integrated school program. This will require collaboration and consistency among regular, remedial, English learner, and special education programs.  

These are not easy solutions and they cannot be put into place overnight. But I believe in public schools because of its potential. Janet Napolitana put it much better than I can when she said  “Public schools were designed as the great equalizer of our society; the place where all children could have access to educational opportunities to make something of themselves in adulthood.” So it turns out that this article is not about retention or social promotion. It is about schools continuing to work on developing the supports needed for all students to be successful in school.

-Jennifer Rumery, ESU 10 School Psychologist