1999-08-28 / Columnists

School Scope

by Howard Schwach

Was summer school a success? Like everything else involving the education scene, it depends on how you look at it. On a citywide level, 63.8 percent of the kids who took the reading test passed and will be promoted to the next grade. Considering the fact that every one of those students had previously failed the test, the fact that so many passed after an intensive five-week session has to be seen as a positive.

Of the 19,000 kids who previously failed the Mathematics test and who took the summer test, 61.2 percent passed. That is also a positive. On the eighth grade level, those students who had passed both the reading and math test, but had failed two or more subjects had to complete an academic research project in order to graduate to grade 9. While no statistics exist for the pass-fail rate of those students, my personal feeling is that more than 75 percent successfully completed his or her project.

The District 27 stats show about the same rates as the citywide stats. Fifty-two percent of the third grades who took the third grade reading test passed. On the third grade Mathematics test, 57.8 percent passed. The grade 6 statistics in reading (66.4 passing) and in Mathematics (56.4 passing) were even better. In the eighth grade, 68.3 percent passed the reading test and 50.9 percent passed the Mathematics test.

Granted, the level of achievement necessary to pass the test was not set at a world-class standard, but the stats are what they are. In all of the district-wide tests, the majority of students who took the tests met the state reference point. The Chancellor’s district, Crew’s special schools, for example, did far worse.

Parents were to be notified during this week as to whether their children successfully completed summer school. Those who did will be promoted to the next grade. Those who did not? Well, who knows?

Those students who failed, but who have an Individual Education Plan (IEP) by dint of their special education status will automatically be promoted because the board earlier caved in to special interests and exempted those students.

One special ed student in a mainland school was forced to go to summer school by his parents although they were told on numerous occasions that he did not have to attend. At the same time, they told the student that he was going to be promoted no matter what. He spent the summer doing no work, wondering the halls and disrupting the work of the other students. He failed to turn in an academic research project and he "failed" his Voyager classes. Yet, he will be promoted.

Now, parents of general education students want the same for their kids.

"Our children are getting punished for not passing a test," says Lisa Ortega, the head of an organization called "Parents on the Move." She chose to keep her daughter home for the summer even though she failed the fourth grade reading test. She says that she will sue the school system if her daughter is left back (she will not, because she is not in a mandated grade. Those grades are 3, 6 and 8).

Other parents and parent advocacy groups such as the Advocates for Children and the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, however, agree with Ortega. Some argue that notification came too late, others that the tests are discriminatory.

"The new standards are arbitrary, capricious and fundamentally improper," the director of Advocates for Children said.

The board will probably once again back down when faced with a lawsuit and all of the kids who failed will be promoted in December or January. Think what that will mean in terms of moving teachers and kids, closing some classes and opening others.

More importantly, think of what it will mean to kids who will now be told once again that failure is really success and that they can do (or not do) whatever they want and still move ahead. That is not a lesson that we as adults should be teaching them. The real world does not work that way.

This is a move by those who believe that a student’s self-esteem is more important that his or her academic skills.

There was recently a major study that proves that student self-esteem is a lot of bologna. In the study, people in many walks of life were studied to ascertain their self-esteem and the effect of that self-esteem on their lives.

The study showed that the group with the highest self-esteem was prisoners in long-term incarceration.

We should stop this fascination with self-esteem and "diversity" and get back to the business of educating kids.

A Daily News editorial perhaps said it best: "…the premise is that they ought to be promoted for social reasons –basically so them won’t feel badly about their little selves. So what if we end up with a bunch of kids who can’t read, can’t spell, can’t compose a simple declarative sentence, can’t do math and think that the Civil War took place in 1914? Hey, they still have enormous self-esteem. Until they discover that they are unemployable, or that no decent college wants them."

Chancellor Crew seems to be holding firm in his battle against social promotion.

To back off now that we’ve come this far would be an injustice to the students. The chancellor is adamant that we don’t continue to shortchange these kids," Crew’s spokesperson said.

Some central school board members, however, disagree.

Irving Hammer, one of Giuliani’s appointees, says, "the real answer is not holding kids back, but giving them more instructional time." He wants to postpone Crew’s plans to "make sure that black and Hispanic students are not disproportionately held back."

Here we go again into the realm where there are different standards for different kids. Regular ed kids have to go to summer school. Resource Room kids do not.

A school system cannot operate in that way.

Set some standards. Stick to them. Hold parents, students, teachers and administrators accountable.

If those standards are not met, then students should have to repeat the grade until those standards are met.

We are doing our students a disservice to do it any other way.


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