The morning that I said “Happy Birthday!” to my newly five year old daughter, she said to me, “Now can I go to Kindergarten?” Often students are placed in particular grade levels based on age. Here at Heritage Oak School, more than just the age of the student is considered in grade placement and when promoting to the next grade. When my daughter entered our school at the Kindergarten level it was not just based on the date of her 5th birthday. She had to prove to the future Kindergarten teacher that she could identify at least 18 letters, 10 numbers, and key shapes. Additionally, she needed to prove she had the skills to write with a both a crayon and a pencil and use scissors. Most importantly, she had to display behavior maturity appropriate for the classroom.
If you are considering placing your child in a private school, you may want to ask about grade placement and promotion policies. The goal of Heritage Oak is to place a child in a grade in which they will be successful. If a student is pulled from their class half way through the year and placed in a lower grade, it could be emotionally straining on the child. Therefore, Heritage Oak places special attention on evaluating grade placement of all incoming students. Sometimes a child may be held back from entering Kindergarten because of social or emotional immaturity. Then that same child may skip a grade a few years later. Parent involvement in the decision process is key to grade placement and promotion.
Head of School at Heritage Oak, Amy Walker, shared the guidelines the school uses for student placement and promotion. “Generally speaking, we expect that your child has maintained a C or better grade average in prior coursework for all future promotions. This is not decided by the standardized testing we administer. We do not believe that just one test predicts the success expected for moving to the next grade. The ability to read, spell, write, and do math problems is evaluated all year long. When report cards are issued, the grades should not be a surprise. Parents are notified if any single homework assignment or test falls below “C” performance.”
Although a “C” average is expected to advance to the next grade, a child may need help if “Cs” are all that the child earns. Is the child struggling or not trying hard enough? These are issues that are taken into consideration for advancement.
Mrs. Walker continued to explain the purpose of standardized testing at Heritage Oak. “Yes we currently administer standardized tests at the end of each year for 1st through 10th grade. The tests are used as an indicator on how the students are retaining the curriculum and we can make necessary changes for next year’s curriculum if need be.
When looking at California’s education code on retention and promotion, it states that students who don’t meet grade standards based on standardized tests must repeat that grade. But of course there is an exception to this rule. If the teacher believes retention is not “appropriate” for a particular student, they can be promoted to the next grade. Because of this exception and the notion that holding kids back will be emotionally detrimental, national retention rates have declined in recent years from 2.7 percent in 1995-2005 to 1.5 percent in 2009.
Former President Barack Obama urged schools to stop social promotion (practice of passing failing students to the next grade) while he was in office. “This notion that we should just graduate kids because they’ve reached a certain age and we don’t want to embarrass them, despite the fact that they may not be able to read, that is a disservice to students,” Obama said in 2010.
A professor at the University of Colorado has conducted research over ten years to prove his theory that holding students back with interventions is much more beneficial than promoting them to the next grade level. “We found that the kids who received this retention and remediation treatment in third grade, there’s big positive immediate effect in those first couple of years,” professor Marcus Winters stated.
The pros and cons of both social promotion and retention have created a dilemma in many schools. One benefit of most private schools, including Heritage Oak, is the small class size and the time the teacher has to spend with each student helps resolve the dilemma. Because teachers identify early on if any students are struggling, they can spend the necessary time along with parent involvement to get them up to speed. If the student is still struggling, the school will partner with the family to make a smooth transition to a lower grade in a way that is not emotionally detrimental. With special attention to grade placement assessment and dedicated time from the teachers, Heritage Oak strives to help each student be successful in their learning and education.
Read more about the pros and cons of private schools in our previous post “Public vs. Private School - What to Consider”