Jermaine Kelly’s elementary school experience was chaotic. Every time he turned around, a fight was “jumping off,” he says, smiling sheepishly and adding, “We had wars inside that school, and I was in the middle of it.”
It’s a practice that just won’t die. Study after study, researcher after researcher, has made the same point: Holding students back when they are not achieving at grade level does not help them academically. Still, the idea resonates with the public. And outgoing Mayor Richard M. Daley garnered praise for instituting a ban on social promotion in 1996. Now, like an aging, punch-drunk prizefighter who just won’t give up and leave the ring, the district’s promotion policy remains alive, if not well.
Chicago’s debate over social promotion has faded for the most part. In Illinois, few followed the city’s lead in making standardized test scores a primary factor in retaining children. Many large districts and charter schools say they look at multiple factors before holding children back and don’t pass students along for social reasons—but don’t fail large numbers of students either. Outside of Chicago and Illinois, though, social promotion is re-emerging as an issue.