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Lost in the Shuffle

When I initially heard that the state exams were pushed to April and May I was excited. It seemed like a good move to give teachers more time to prepare their students and therefore it’d provide a more accurate assessment of the teaching/learning accomplished in a year. With 14 school days left though and no sign of test scores coming in, my enthusiasm’s waned a bit. The best we can expect (any day now!) is the cut-off scores, a simple list of who passed and who failed. The release of the actual performance scale scores (i.e. 2.19 or 3.76) have been delayed until late July.

This all wouldn’t be such a big deal if these scores weren’t the sole basis of whether my students pass or fail. And therein lies the problem. Because I’m supposed to be preparing promotion-in-doubt folders for my students who didn’t pass the test, and I don’t know who these students are. For those who don’t know, promotion-in-doubt folders are extensive folders of student work that provide evidence that a student deserves to pass even though he failed the state exams. Which brings me to the second major issue. Several of my students don’t deserve to pass.

Now it’s not for lack of effort on their part. And it’s not for lack of progress. All of my students made at least a year’s worth of progress in reading and math. However, when you’re starting the third grade reading at a kindergarten level, a year’s worth of progress doesn’t prepare you for the fourth grade. In fact, it doesn’t even make you ready for the third grade. With little regard for this reality, it’s been made clear to me that nobody plans to hold any of my students back if it can be avoided at all.

This has been the pattern at the end of every year since I started. In spite of glaring shortcomings in student performance, and in spite of the fact that Chancellor Joel Klein declared social promotion dead in 2004, schools still refuse to hold students back, because it reflects poorly on them. If somehow, my students (yes students, plural!) reading at a kindergarten level are all promoted, it will be a true disservice to them, in spite of their hard work and progress. As long as the system penalizes schools for doing the right thing, these kids will be pushed forward, while they continue to fall behind.

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