I am a huge advocate of standards-based education and competency-based education, and as an educator who now has experience in both the high school and the college realms, I have an important perspective on the effects of social promotion in the primary and secondary schools. In the end, it may cripple or even destroy our country.

The practice of social promotion is allowing a student to advance to the next grade level (or even graduate altogether) with their social cohort, despite any true mastery of the content. Of course, the grades may show “pass”, but they are often fluffed up false measures of achievements. Advocates of social promotion claim that retention harms the  student and causes financial and logistical difficulties to struggling school systems and shows no real benefits. Some of these may actually be true, but I contend that socially promoting students causes far more harm than good.

According to Pew Research, only 25% of 12th graders (and only 33% of 8th graders) were proficient in mathematics in 2015, “proficient” being on grade-level. And national scores of the ACT (and SAT) have reached a low  of 20.8 and 1000, respectively. Despite this, the national graduation rate for 12th graders reached a record high in 2015 of 83%. Obviously, social promotion is widely practiced nationwide or this discrepancy wouldn’t occur. If we were practicing CBE (competency-based education), students would only advance to the next grade level when they have mastered all content and practice standards at the current level.

The result? The (also) record-high of nearly 70 percent of graduating seniors enrolling in college are entering college unprepared for the rigors of college math. This means many have to spend extra money for no credit to take remedial math classes, and it also means that a large number of students hit a brick wall in college and cannot succeed.

CNBC and Slate.com do a wonderful job explaining the college dropout problem.  Only about half of the students who begin college actually finish with any type of degree, and about 1/4 drop out as freshmen. Many of these are because of math and other subject deficiencies from high school where the students simply aren’t prepared for true rigor and rising to meet standards in college. They aren’t prepared for “effort” and “extra credit” not being enough and actually having to demonstrate true mastery.

And it’s imperiling the U.S. as a country.  Student loans in the U.S. have risen to nearly $1.5 trillion dollars, amounting to nearly $36,000 on average for each college student. And remember – only half actually have a degree to show. That means that a large number of students are graduating high school unprepared, getting pushed into college falsely believing in themselves, and having to drop out of college with a decades-long debt with no degree to get a good job to pay it off. And this debt is growing, and rapidly. The combination of rapidly rising student loans with a workforce unprepared and unqualified to pay it off in prompt order is a recipe for disaster and sabotage as a country.

For the sake and lives of the students, for the taxpayers, and for the country as a whole, we deserve better. We deserve a CBE education system that doesn’t rob education from a whole generation; we deserve a CBE education system that only graduates those that truly are ready; and we deserve a CBE education system that can set a new era of students on the path for success and prosperity.  Because in the end, practicing social promotion as educators robs our kids of their proper education and sets many of them up for a lifetime of failure. They deserve better.


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