State Education Leaders Question Banning Social Promotion

By: - October 12, 2000 12:00 am

In an effort to elevate public school learning standards, a number of states have banned social promotion, the practice of passing failing students onto the next grade. But the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) says holding students back rarely works and often causes them to drop out of school altogether.

“We aren’t backing away from high expectations from all our students, but we are pointing out that in order to move to the next stage of education reform, policymakers must step back and reconsider the entire system,” said Brenda Welburn, Executive Director of NASBE.

NASBE’s conclusion that policies banning social promotion need to be reexamined can be found in “Failure is Not an Option: The Next Step in Education Reform, ” a 55-page report released Thursday (10/12) at the organization’s annual meeting in St. Louis.

Some of the recommendations seem obvious, such as making sure the state test matches what is taught in the classroom, giving localities freedom to set up curriculum and best teaching practices and giving teachers professional training.

The advisory panel of education board members from 14 states also urged lawmakers to rethink bans on social promotion, to consider providing quality preschool and urging them not to give up on poorly performing students.

“We are at a point where the heavy lifting begins,” Welburn says. “You can gear certain students to new kinds of instruction and assessments and pull along moderate students, but the kids with the challenge are those without good academic success. We want to make sure the concept of all children can learn’ isn’t lost because some children don’t make it in two, three or four years.”

Most states have approached education reforms by raising expectations of what students should learn in each grade, testing them on their level of knowledge and then retaining those who fail to meet the standards. But the NASBE panel found that some states do not have tests aligned with what is being taught. It also found that students forced to attend summer school or repeat the same grade rarely improve and have a higher drop-out rate.

“Retention needs to be a last ditch effort,” Welburn said. Board of Education members from Arkansas, Texas, Indiana, Illinois, Alabama, New York, Utah, Michigan, Connecticut, Oregon, Indiana, New Jersey, Ohio and North Carolina served on the advisory panel.


  • Policies and programs should be based on sound research and help all students, including the poor achievers. Schools should change their educational strategies for failing students.
  • Implement tests aligned with the curriculum. Set up effective and non-punitive accountability measures.
  • Allow local districts and schools flexibility to structure curriculum, instructional practices and classroom time so that every student is continually engaged in learning and receives helping interventions as needed to achieve academic standards.
  • Establish universal opportunities for quality preschool education because early intervention is better than remediation.
  • Ensure that all teachers are well prepared and supported.
  • Never give up on students no matter where they are in their education.
  • State and local boards of education should be leaders in building coalitions as a foundation for reforms. They should also assure that policy is aligned with curriculum and reforms.

To get a copy of the report call NASBE at 1-800-220-5183.

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