Educators have long debated the merits of social promotion in which students are passed to the next grade even if their grades don't justify it. Opponents argue that boosting students' self-esteem is less important than holding them accountable for poor academic performance. Also, promoting students who haven't mastered basic skills offers a false sense of security and leaves them unprepared to cope with not only academic requirements of the next grade level but also job requirements in the future.
Critics of social promotion argue that it sends a bad message. Passing students from grade to grade implies that objective standards aren't important and nothing better will be expected from them, the U.S. Department of Education asserts in its May 1999 report "Taking Responsibility for Ending Social Promotion." The result is a dysfunctional school culture that encourages the socially promoted student to think that he can get by without working too hard.
Lack of College Readiness
Graduates without basic skills struggle to cope with the demands of college-level courses. Catching up requires taking remedial classes -- especially in English and math -- that require significant college and university resources. For example, "The Florence Times Daily" reported in June 2013 that 40 to 50 percent of Alabama high school graduates needed remedial courses when they moved on to college. In some instances, students need 12 to 18 hours of remedial classes, which slows progress toward fulfilling undergraduate degree requirements.
Poor Career Preparation
Employers voice concern about dealing with functionally illiterate students whose lack of basic reading, writing and math skills makes them unsuitable job applicants. For example, one in six students couldn't pass the basic provincial test in Ontario, Canada, according to an August 2009 policy report issued by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. Socially promoted students are also more likely to drop out than higher-achieving peers, which effectively closes them out of all but the most menial jobs.
Unequal Student Achievement
Social promotion also poses challenges for teachers, who must motivate students of widely different performance levels, the foundation's report asserts. Coping with the disparity forces teachers to continually adapt instruction methods and lesson plans.
At the same time, failure to maintain a consistent set of academic standards makes it hard for teachers to effectively educate every student. Teachers may respond by promoting fewer students, which only aggravates the problem of inspiring them to give their best effort in the classroom.
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