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Students held back in 2012 at same rate as before Bloomberg

Just 2 percent of city students were held back last year, the same proportion as in the year before Mayor Bloomberg moved to ban “social promotion,” according to data that the Department of Education released today.

Of students in third through eighth grade, 7,540 were required to repeat their grade after attending summer school in 2012, according to the data. Four times that number of students had been required to attend summer school because they were not expected to pass the year’s state math and reading tests. In 2011, 3 percent of students were retained.

Department of Education officials said the decline in the number of students held back was fueled by more students passing the state tests. Because the city doesn’t find out the scores from students’ spring exams until August, when summer school is already over, some students who appeared likely to fail must register for summer classes that they ultimately do not need.

The department is also working to reduce the frequency with which students are retained, amid research finding that students who are held back are less likely to reach proficiency in the future.

Regulations introduced last year allowed students who are overage for their grade and have been held back multiple times to proceed to the next grade, even if they did not meet the regular promotion standards. Of the 9,200 students held back in 2011, 1,200 were eligible for promotion under the new policy, and 838 of them moved to the next grade because of it.

This year, the city is responding to the specter of significantly lower scores on tests aligned to the new Common Core standards by further relaxing promotion standards. Instead of requiring students to pass the tests to be promoted, the city plans to send approximately the lowest-performing 10 percent of students to summer school.

Eliminating “social promotion” was one of Mayor Bloomberg’s earliest initiatives. The ban first took effect in third grade in 2004 — enabled by Bloomberg’s purge of critics from the city school board — and extended to all tested grades in 2009 after an independent review found potential short-term gains for students who were held back. With the latest decline in the number of students held back, the retention rate now equals the rate from before Bloomberg first took on promotion practices.

This article has been updated to reflect the number of students in grades 3-8 who were promoted in 2012 because of a new policy allowing students who are average for their grade to move on to the next grade even if they do not otherwise meet the standards for promotion.

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