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Performance-based promotion is a good thing

Chronicle Guest View - In The Public Interest

June 27, 2014
By Deborah D. Thornton , Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald
Most successful employers use annual performance reviews, basing promotions and raises on demonstrated skills. Few employers promote based on length of employment, irrespective of skills, except those which are unionized and promote on tenure. In 2011 Governor Terry Branstad proposed ending social promotion in schools by requiring all third-grade students who were not proficient in reading to repeat that grade. The heavily unionized educational establishment and Democrat State Legislators funded by them reacted with strong opposition. Objections included claims that being retained would actually harm a child. Some thought that a child who could not read should still be moved to the next grade. Still others argued that retaining students does not work  they still do not learn to read. Research shows that 88 percent of high school dropouts were non-proficient readers in the third grade. Children not reading by the third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school, and low-income/minority children are eight times more likely to drop out. Promotion without skills does not lead to success. Nevertheless the Governor s proposal was rejected. Many states use performance-based promotion in schools. Florida has done so with excellent results. Researchers at the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government found that Florida students repeating the third grade experienced substantial &gains in both math and reading achievement. Over the next three years the students outperformed their same-age peers. Early retention also reduced failure at higher grade levels. The children went on to succeed. The Florida results are important because they have had these requirements for over ten years. Importantly, the only students who are retained are those scoring at a level one out of five. A level one score means the student is functionally illiterate not just a poor or below-average reader, but a child who is unable to read at the most basic level. There are exemptions based upon other test scores or on the teacher s review and evaluation of work. Retained students do not just repeat the grade, but must be provided with a summer reading program, have a personal improvement plan, be assigned to a highly-effective teacher, and receive intensive reading interventions, including being in a smaller class and having 90 minutes of daily instruction. A child may be promoted mid-year and rejoin their original class. The first year of the policy 14 percent of third-graders were held back, up from 2.8 percent. By 2009-10 the number retained fell to less than 6 percent. The exemption policy is also being used, as currently 18 percent are scoring at a level one but only 7.9 percent are being retained. The test scores of Florida students have increased dramatically over the last ten years, from 218 to 227 in fourth-grade reading, and from 234 to 242 in math. Florida is the only state to have narrowed the low-income, minority achievement gap in both reading and math, at both the fourth and eighth-grade levels. Iowa has not. The achievement of not only low-income and minority children in Iowa but also that of white children remains flat. According to the Iowa Department of Education, white students &are behind their white peers nationally across all test grade levels and subject areas. Fourth-grade reading has fallen five points since 1992 and now ranks 29th in the nation. Education money climbs by millions of dollars every year, with unceasing calls for even more, yet there is no accountability. Who are the elected representatives responsible? The union funded Democrat Legislators. Maybe the place we need to end social promotion is at the ballot box. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Public Interest Institute. They are brought to you in the interest of a better informed citizenry. Deborah D. Thornton is a research analyst at the Public Interest Institute in Mount Pleasant.


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