Ending Social Promotion: Results from the First Two Years

October, 1999
Melissa Roderick, Anthony S. Bryk, Brian A. Jacob, John Q. Easton, and Elaine Allensworth
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In 1996, the Chicago Public Schools implemented a policy designed to end social promotion and raise academic achievement. The centerpiece of this initiative is a set of promotional test-score cutoffs for third, sixth, and eighth graders. Students in these grades must achieve a minimum score on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS) in reading and mathematics in order to be promoted to the next grade. Students who do not meet the criteria are required to participate in a special summer school program, Summer Bridge, and retake the test at the end of the summer. Those who fail again are either retained in their grade, promoted nonetheless, or, if they are 15, sent to new alternative schools called Transition Centers. Because this policy's impact has been both far-reaching and controversial, the Consortium on Chicago School Research has embarked on a study to identify the ways in which it has affected student achievement and school instruction. This first report from the study, Ending Social Promotion: Results from the First Two Years, compares the progress of students who faced the promotional test cutoffs in 1997 and 1998 with that of a group of students two years earlier, before the policy was in place. The main findings of this first report are the following:

  • There have been impressive increases in the proportion of students who meet the test- score cutoff for promotions.
  • The picture is mixed on whether getting students up to a test-score cutoff in one year allows them to do better the next year.
  • Retained students continue to struggle.
  • Overall results are much more positive for sixth and eighth graders than for third graders, suggesting that the policy might be more appropriate for older than younger grade levels.
  • Administrative issues, such as decisions to exclude students or to promote them despite scores below cutoff, shape students' experiences under the policy.

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