As schools get closer to the end of the school year, the question often arises, “Should Johnny be promoted to the next grade level or held back?
For many schools, there is no consistent promotion and retention policy. As long as schools are organized as graded-schools, there will be those who do not qualify for advancement to the next grade. Given the large body of educational research supporting the negative aspects of retention, schools are modifying their promotion policies to reduce the number of non-promotions.
Think of retention this way. Suppose you need to drive from Tulsa, Oklahoma to Dallas, Texas. Under normal conditions and with an adequate vehicle and plenty of gas, you should make Dallas in five hours. Let us say, after five hours, you only reach Oklahoma City just 100 miles from Tulsa, for whatever reason—car malfunction, detours in the road, accident, etc. Should you be sent all the way back to Tulsa and told to start all over? Unless your car is repaired, the road fixed, more gas put in the tank or detours eliminated, there is no assurance you will make it to Dallas a second time.
Retaining a student at a grade level for a second year without attempting to deal with the reasons affecting his rate of learning gives no assurance that the student will be any more successful on the second trip.
When a student fails to advance as expected, it is possible that the fault rests as much with the school and teacher as with the student. Dr. Bruce Wilkinson, the author of The 7 Laws of the Learner, states, “It is the responsibility of the teacher to do everything in his power to cause the student to learn.” Consider the following strategies:
Assessment. Incorporate a system that accurately assesses individual and group progress toward achieving curriculum objectives (prescribed learner outcomes). As soon as it is evident that students are not making progress, look for reasons within the entire teaching-learning environment, not just the student.
Class Periods. Consider extending the class period, school day, time allocated to a specific skill, or even the school year (summer classes) to accommodate individual differences in the learning rate. If summer school is not an option, develop an individual study program for the student over the summer, where the student can work on mastering the objectives that were missed; then, re-evaluate the retention decision before the start of the new school year.
Instructional Adjustment. Permit teachers to adjust instructional programs, materials and methods to better meet the growth pattern of their pupils. Have students work with a classroom aide or tutor.
Reading Materials. Provide reading materials within each classroom that cover a wide range of difficulty over several “grade levels.”
Class Size. Promote smaller class sizes for teachers. Encourage them to adjust their teaching methods and to focus on small group and individual skill development.
Communication. Keep parents regularly informed about the progress of their children in all aspects of the school curriculum (daily or weekly if needed). Solicit their support and assistance in helping their child(ren) achieve specific learner outcomes.
Training. Sponsor a school-wide in-service, conference or video series, such as The 7 Laws of the Learner, The 7 Laws of the Teacher, and Teaching With Style, to equip your teaching staff to meet the needs of their students.
Computerization. Investigate using computer-aided instruction in a wide variety of subjects. For example, tutorial software is designed to teach a subject as well as drill over it. Programs are intended to stand alone as an instructional entity in the curriculum. Thus, the computer is the teacher for a particular skill or area of information.
Use tutorial programs in the classroom under the direction of the teacher, or send them home with the student to be monitored by the parent. Some schools include a variety of tutorial programs in their school library, making them available for checkout by students and parents.
Other programs can assist with drill and practice. Incorporate these programs to supplement regular instruction. For example, concepts which have been presented in the classroom by the teacher can be practiced and refined by the computer (a good example is Skills Bank III).
Word of God. Bring the uncompromising Word of God to bear on academic challenges. Declare Ephesians 2:10 over your students, “For (your students) are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works....” Part of the good works of students is good grades.
Help students to guard their words. Words can help create within them a conquering attitude thus stimulating faith rather than doubt. Their belief, coupled with God's promises, gives your students God's ability and power to overcome any homework assignment, special project, quiz, nine-week test, or any other school challenge.