Volume 16 • Issue 43 | March 26 - April 1, 2004


Ending social promotion requires more than a test

The plan by Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein to end so-called social promotion at the third-grade level has become a major news story in recent weeks, after the mayor rammed the plan’s approval through the Panel for Educational Policy. He did so, of course, by removing three members from the panel who opposed the idea, in the process generating a firestorm of controversy.

Under the mayor’s plan, tests, one for English and one for math, will be administered to third-grade public school students across the city on April 20 and April 27, respectively. For those who score on the lowest of five levels — level one — on either test, it will mean they will be held back and have to repeat third grade. Estimates are that about 15,000 will fall in this category.

Clearly, social promotion is not desirable. It’s a shame to graduate students to the next level who are not able to perform their work at grade level; they will likely continue to struggle, probably until they graduate or, worse, drop out. And yet, the mayor’s plan, we feel, is an even less favorable option, because it is overly simplistic and won’t make a significant difference.

The problem of underperforming students is complex. What is needed is for failing students to be identified earlier, so that they can receive the necessary extra help.

More can be done without taking such drastic steps: for example, to name just a few, after-school programs and mandatory summer school for struggling students and smaller class size to lower the student-to-teacher ratio, allowing these children to receive greater individual attention.

The mayor’s plan also seems mean-spirited. There’s no question the effects of being held back are psychologically debilitating to a young child’s ego. In a word, it stigmatizes them.

One can’t help but wonder at the seeming political expediency of this proposal. After low-performing third graders are held back, Bloomberg will then be able to point to higher fourth-grade scores, which will be a major campaign issue for him when, presumably, he runs for reelection in 2005.

Ending social promotion is, in theory, a laudable idea. But this plan is ill conceived and is not backed up by previous studies. While it will make the school system, mayor and chancellor look better, will it really serve poor-performing kids? Unfortunately, we don’t think so.

High stakes meeting on Site 5C

This Tuesday Tribeca and Battery Park City residents will have the chance once again to voice their opposition to a proposed 35-story building on a city-owned vacant lot behind P.S. 234, known as Site 5C. The building is far too large for the block and the much needed community rec center proposed for the residential building is far too small. The City Council has the power to reject the proposed development but Councilmember Alan Gerson will have to rally the council’s support to do so. A large turnout is vital to help strengthen Councilmember Gerson’s hand to stop it if the project’s size is not reduced and the center is not expanded. We urge Downtowners to let their voices be heard at the Community Board 1 public hearing, March 30, 6 p.m., at P.S./I.S. 89, 201 Warren St.

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