Friday, April 18, 2008

Grade Retention and Accountability

I make no secret of the fact that I am not a fan of high stakes testing. The pass/fail nature of these tests is simply unfair and wrong in my view.

However, there seems to be another side of this question that bears closer examination. Is grade retention itself an effective strategy for improving student achievement.

Enter the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) with some interesting observations. In a position statement on this subject, the association states "...that as many as 15% of American students are held back each year, and 30% -50% of students in the US are retained at least once before ninth grade. Furthermore, the highest retention rates are found among poor, minority, inner-city youth."

Now I am no supporter of a simple policy of so called "social promotion" either. In fact, the association points out that "...neither grade retention nor social promotion is an effective strategy for improving educational success."

NASP argues in favor of what it calls "promotion plus" specific interventions that focus on student needs. I particularly like the very first thing on its list which is to "encourage parents' involvement in their children's schools and education through frequent contact with teachers, supervision of homework, etc..

Other suggestions include:

-offer extended year, extended day, and summer school programs that focus on facilitating the development of academic skills
-establish full-service schools to provide a community-based vehicle for the organization and delivery of educational, social and health services to meet the diverse needs of at-risk students
-Implement effective school-based mental health programs

NASP says "a recent systematic review of research exploring dropping out of high school indicates that grade retention is one of the most powerful predictors of high school dropout."

With local and national emphasis on understanding and reducing what is called a dropout crisis, it is clear to me that automatic grade retention policies are part of the problem and not the solution. They should be stopped immediately in favor of more innovative approaches. Start with a detailed study of NASP recommendations.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Improving the Lives of Children

Today we highlight the efforts of one of my heroes and his lovely wife. I speak of General Colin Powell and, his wife, Mrs. Alma Powell. General and Mrs Powell have launched a nationwide effort to contain and reverse the high school drop out crisis that we face as a country. In particular, they focus on the at risk child which more often than not tends to be black and/or Latino.

Mrs. Alma Powell, chair of America's Promise Alliance, recently launched its 15 in 5 initiative.
This effort has at its core the goal of reaching 15 million young people (particularly those most as risk) in the next five years by exposing them to the five promises.

The five promises that have most been correlated with future success are:
  • Caring adults
  • Safe places and constructive use of time
  • Healthy start and development
  • Effective education for marketable skills and lifelong learning
  • Opportunities to make a difference through helping others.

This effort, together with its overarching message, is one our site is proud to showcase. It promotes the right values and focus. We concur with the promises and encourage you to join us and the 15 in 5 campaign.

We have created a link to the 15 in 5 Web site for your easy use. It is a great site. A powerful resource for anyone interested in kids and their education. I look forward to making it one of my first daily reading sources.

Thank you General and Mrs Colin Powell. You are an awesome team and an inspiration to me and I suspect many, many others.

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