For years, the Waco school system has had a problem at graduation
time. Following the unspoken, and illegal, policy of social
promotion, teachers were inflating the grades of poorly performing
students and passing them on to the next grade.
This year, for the first time, Waco school officials decided to
crack down. They required children from third through eighth grade
to pass a state achievement test in order to advance, and the
were grim: More than 20 percent of the student body failed.
Now Waco school officials are facing a parental revolt and a
handful of lawsuits. They are also having trouble finding enough
qualified teachers to handle the largest summer school program in
city history to deal with students held back.
"I think it's totally unacceptable to have that percentage of
students not having mastered the correct level of curriculum," says
Rosanne Stripling, Waco's school superintendent. For years, she
adds, Waco was far below the state average in achievement scores and
nothing seemed to boost the numbers. "But when we established this
policy, we really got some folks attention."
The problem of social promotion is faced by nearly every school
district in the country, and while it has few defenders in
it is difficult to eradicate in practice. Some educators and parents
argue that holding students back to repeat a year only ends up
discouraging students and encouraging them to drop out. Others say
schools must return to the tough standards of yesteryear, when the
only way to advance was to know the material.
"The most important effect of getting tough is that in the
students' minds, they now know what they need to know," says Kathy
Christie of the Education Commission of the States, a Denver think
tank. "We should be more proactive - tell students, 'This is what we
expect. We're not going to allow you to fail, period.' "
The common-sense appeal of ending social promotion also makes good
politics. During a campaign visit, Gov. George W. Bush (R) said Waco
was doing exactly what he envisions of Texas schools, and he
plans for the next legislative session to require all Texas students
to pass the state achievement test to advance to the next grade.
"The practice of passing students to the next grade without having
grasped the basic building blocks of knowledge subjects those
students to failure," says Linda Edwards, Governor Bush's
on education issues.
Of course, Waco has made provisions for handling the excess number
of students piling into this year's summer school, and plans to
$1 million to get as many of them as possible to pass to the next