NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Alternatives To Social Promotion

March 9, 1999

Social promotion, the practice of promoting students to the next grade even though they haven't learned the skills required to pass, has been criticized by liberal and conservative analysts and most teachers alike. A 1996 study reported 78 percent of teachers were opposed to the practice. In Texas, Gov. George W. Bush (R) has made ending social promotion one of his top legislative goals. If he is successful, it could affect lots of students.

  • The Texas Federation of Teachers estimates about 150,000 students are promoted every year without actually passing their work.
  • A majority of third-, fifth- and eighth-grade students who failed the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) test were passed anyway.
  • This occurred despite the Texas Education Code requirement that grade promotion occurs only on the basis of academic achievement.

But is there an alternative to either holding students back or promoting them when they're unprepared? Analysts offer a number of possibilities.

  • Slow-learning students can take summer school to complete the skills they didn't learn during the school year.
  • They can be required to attend after-school or weekend tutoring sessions.
  • Schools can create special reading sections to improve poor reading skills -- one of the primary factors causing some students to fall behind their classmates.

One bill before the Texas Senate would require a special committee of a student's parents, teacher and principal to determine what additional instruction is necessary for the student if he fails the TAAS test a second time.

Source: Merrill Matthews (NCPA), "Alternatives Help End Social Promotion," Dallas Morning News, March 8, 1999.


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