By Bisi Orisamolu
Yesterday DC Reads hosted a seminar with guest speaker Mr. Latham who had taught second grade for the past three years at Houston Elementary School. One thing in particular that Mr. Latham said was especially surprising to me. Someone asked the question of how and when it is determined whether a student should move on to the next grade level or repeat a grade. Mr. Latham revealed that in the DC Public School system, a student can only be retained in 3rd and 5th grade and only once. If the student has an Individualized Education Plan which is a program designed for special education students, then they cannot be retained at all. If a teacher would like to hold a student back in any other grade, there needs to be a special write up consisting of a lot of paper work that must be submitted and the consent of parents needs to be given. When asked how many kids he thinks are moved on to the next grade when they should be retained, Mr. Lantham answered all of them that are not at proficient. At Houston Elementary this would be about 60%. In a system where most of the kids are failing, it seems to only encourage the problem by making it so hard to fail.
It comes as no surprise that kids that are not on grade level are passing through to the next grade. However, the system is so imperfect that kids that do not know their letters or colors are passing through to middle school and high school. Holding 60% of a grade back might be impractical but holding back 0% also seems wholly inefficient. This causes there to be large discrepancies in the ability of the children in a single classroom. For example, Mr. Lantham said that in a 6th grade classroom the teacher may single out a group that is reading on a 3rd grade level and give them material on that level. Instead of creating an atmosphere of different grades under one teacher, it seems more logical to leave kids who are not passing in the grades that match their ability.