NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

When Too Many Students Fail, Lower The Standards

December 2, 1999

Many school districts around the country have abandoned the policy of social promotion, replacing it with educational standards which students must meet in order to proceed to the next higher grade. But for all their good intentions, school officials are finding the policy unworkable because vast numbers of students simply cannot make the grade.

Every state which has instituted tests to end social promotion has faced the prospect of having large numbers fail. The latest district to wrestle with the problem is the Los Angeles Unified School District -- the nation's second largest.

  • Last year, the California legislature passed a law calling for student promotion based on meeting basic academic standards and gave school districts several years to implement the new standards.
  • The Los Angeles district adopted a program about 10 months ago to apply the standards to five grades -- the second through the fifth and the eighth -- after this school year.
  • But now it is considering applying them to just two of the grades -- perhaps the second and eighth -- because of overwhelming shortfalls in performance.
  • Standardized test results showed that as many as half of the 711,000 students in Los Angeles public schools would fail if the new policy were put in place promptly.

More recently, teacher evaluations of students now suggest that perhaps 280,000 children -- or about 40 percent of the district -- would fail if just those evaluations were used rather than the tests.

One school board member commented that "we were going to hit the end of the school year with a disaster on our hands," adding that "the whole effort might have collapsed."

Source: James Sterngold, "Los Angeles May Ease Up on School Promotion Policy," New York Times, December 2, 1999.


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