Tucson Unified School District could see a jump in the number of students held back a grade next school year if the Governing Board approves a new promotion and retention policy now being considered.
On average, TUSD retains 232 kindergarten through eighth-graders each year - less than 1 percent of the district's average 32,000 student K-8 population.
The current policy, adopted in 2006, lacks specific benchmarks students must achieve for promotion - a deficiency the proposed new policy is aimed at correcting.
The new policy was presented to the board for discussion at its Tuesday meeting, which continued late into the night. No decision to approve or reject it was planned.
"We realize the first year of implementation will have some unintended consequences," Jimmy Hart, the director of TUSD's African American Student Services Department, said before the meeting. Hart is chairman of the district's promotion-retention committee. "However, after much dialogue ... we believe the recommendations will move our district forward."
TUSD Governing Board member Mark Stegeman, who has raised the issue of "social promotion" in the past, agreed with Hart. Social promotion refers to the routine promotion of students who don't meet academic standards so that they will stay with their age group.
"If we raise the standards, it will have a positive effect on the vast majority of kids who will respond because they don't want to be retained," Stegeman said. "We will have some who don't make it, but if you focus only on those implications, you ignore the positive effect this will have on others who now understand that the district cares and will hold them to a higher standard."
Stegeman said it is unacceptable to pass students along to the next grade level when they are not ready.
"I don't think anyone denies that this happens," Stegeman said of social promotion. "My feeling is, if we really care about educational outcomes and how well our children will do in the future, we have an obligation to make sure our children are at grade-level (performance). Otherwise, we are doing our students a disservice."
Instead of clearly defining minimum requirements for promotion, the current policy simply stipulates students achieve "accomplishments" in various subject matters.
For grades K-8 the proposed new policy lays out which classes students would have to receive a passing grade in. For grades K-5, they would be English and math. Third-graders will also be required to be approaching or reading at grade level to be promoted to the fourth grade, as required by a state law that goes into effect next school year.
A passing grade is defined as approaching a standard or better. Those who fall far below standards would not be considered to be passing.
For middle schoolers, students would have to earn a final passing grade in each of the following classes: English, math, science or social studies, along with one other course.
Promotion of high schoolers would remain mostly the same, based on credits earned. Students advance only when they meet the minimum requirements to be considered a sophomore, junior or senior.
There is a provision in the new policy for students with disabilities, allowing those with individual education plans to be assessed on progress of goals and objectives.
The proposed policy focuses heavily on identifying at-risk students earlier in the school year - within the first week to 4 1/2 weeks rather than after the first quarter - to begin interventions, which must be documented.
The current policy gives much weight to a collaborative decision by the teacher and parent on what is in "the best interest of the student." The proposed change includes that consideration, but gives it less weight.
In reviewing the existing policy, a district committee found a need for clear consistent implementation of the promotion/retention policy. The committee also met with parents, community members and administrators for feedback.
Policy practices of 10 districts locally and nationally were also reviewed.
Historic retention rates among Tucson Unified School District's 32,000 K-8 students.
School Students % of K-8 year retained population
2005-06 276 0.8
2006-07 222 0.6
2007-08 247 0.7.
2008-09 227 0.7
2009-0 165 0.5
2010-11 190 0.6
2011-12 299 0.9
- Source Tucson Unified School District
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