Bad Scores? Sure, but No Flunking Waco Revolt
Scott Baldauf, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
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 results 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 principle, 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.' " Good politics 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 unveiled 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 spokeswoman 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 spend $1 million to get as many of them as possible to pass to the next grade. …