Proposed Change May Ease Promotion Ban

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The city is easing the rules for students who are held back more than once.

According to current regulations, students cannot be promoted if they fail the standardized tests. Now the city wants to let principals use multiple measures to promote those in grades 3-7 who were already held back, and who are two or more years over age.

"Beginning this summer, you may recommend these students for promotion in August if they have shown gains on multiple measures of performance," the chief academic officer, Shael Polakow-Suransky, wrote in a letter to principals. Those measures may include state tests, periodic assessment results and student work.

"This is a very high-need population," Mr. Suransky said, in explaining why he wanted to give the students more options. "What you see in kids who have been held back multiple times is, compared to the regular dropout rate of 11 percent these kids have a dropout rate of 46 percent."

Mr. Suransky estimated that about 450 students could benefit from the more flexible policy, which is to be voted on by the Panel for Educational Policy in July.

Katherine Moloney, principal of Public School 100 in Brooklyn, said the change made sense.

"I think it's a fair thing because children take tests differently and if you really feel this child can go on -- and you can prove it -- it's worth making a pitch to the superintendent," she said. However, she added that she did not have any students in her elementary school who have been held over multiple times, and that teachers tried to get ahead of the curve if a student appeared to be at risk of failing the exams.

At the same time, the city is looking to tighten the rules for eighth graders who have been held back more than once as they try to move on to ninth grade if they fail their state exams another time.

Since 2009, eighth graders could be promoted based on “effort toward meeting promotion standards” after they have been held back once. Superintendents make the final call based on recommendations from the child's principal.

But Mr. Suransky said the problem was: "What does 'effort' mean?"

The Education Department now wants to require more proof of effort and progress than a principal's recommendation, and will use the same criteria for the eighth graders as those in grades 3-7: gains on multiple measures of performance.

Starting in 2004, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's administration made it harder for students to advance to the next grade by doing away with what educators call "social promotion." Students cannot advance to the next grade if they score a Level 1 on their state exams, unless they attend summer school and pass the exams in August.

Mr. Suransky said the city had been reviewing that policy over the years and saw a pattern among a small group of students held back multiple times who might benefit from added flexibility.

He said schools would receive an extra $336 per student this summer, and $1,200 per student next year, for students who are two or more years over age or have been previously retained in the last two years. The money is intended for academic and social-emotional supports.