As the end of the year rolls in, and students start looking at what they may, or may not, have to do during the Summer, Social Promotion is something that is debated quite a bit in the school system. The idea has been around since the 1930's and picked up steam in the 1970's. It looks at promoting kids to the next grade level, whether or not they have met the current learning objectives. I recently sat in a Professional Day conference that discussed early interventions in reading, and was shocked by an example of a student who went from Kindergarten to grade 9 without any reading skills. It was not until Grade 9 that someone realized the student was struggling and then decided to take action. The young student in question was reading at a Grade 3 level. Now there was no background information, we did not know his / her socio-economic status, nor did they give us any history of any learning exceptionalities that this student may have had. We do not know if the student came from a very difficult home life or had family members battling substance abuse or addictions and there was no discussion of whether he/she was Early Language Learner whose family only spoke their mother language at home. All we knew was that this young student was pushed through from Grade K to Grade 9 before some action had taken place.
Now, more and more, especially in high school, I hear teachers, especially English teachers, complain of student's inabilities to "hear the voice" when they are reading, students being unable to comprehend what is happening in the literature, students who have slow reading speeds, and students who do not know how to read, far less write age appropriately. Math teachers are complaining that students are coming into Math classes less prepared and less-rooted in the basics than previously before. Physical education teachers are startled by the lack of physical literacy skills that students are coming into high-school with. Universities lamenting that students are less prepared academically, socially, and emotionally, to the rigors of higher education than past undergraduates. Accountability for these issues gets shuffled around to different "stakeholders" depending on the situation. Universities will blame secondary teachers, who then point their fingers at the elementary teachers, who may then point their fingers at the parents. Parents will then point fingers at individual teachers, and sometimes schools. Universities always argue about having to lower standards to meet the clientele, but Universities in BC will rarely discuss that most of the time, lowering admission standards is more about competition between universities for student clientele than it is because of students not meeting the grade.
Now, is Social Promotion really helping our students and or is this even a huge problem in our system? I don't believe that the majority of our students are getting pushed through, but as educators are we accountable for the students that slip through the cracks of the system? We are all cognizant and sometimes critical of "helicopter" parents, but are we becoming those same "helicopter" or "bubble-wrap" teachers? Has the educational system become so fragile that parents have control, administrators just want to please, and teachers just follow the rules coming down the pipeline? Is this what is best for our students? Failure may not be an option, but all stakeholders have to be aware that authentic learning, authentic assessment, and authentic mastery must take place. I became a father at the young age of 22 and I remember holding my son and my parents/in-laws both said the same thing to me "the role of a parent is to teach and show your children how to survive without you". It was shocking to hear this, especially it being only a couple of hours since I had held Nathanial, but that phrase is something that has shaped my teaching philosophy, because as a teacher I feel the need to do the same thing. I just wonder if Social Promotion will remove our children's ability to live and function without us. Student growth and learning is the most important part of education, we must not forget that.