Promotion promises

In promotion ban rollback, some students to get another chance

Students who have been held back repeatedly will get a renewed shot at moving to the next grade under new regulations that the Department of Education has proposed.

When Mayor Bloomberg won control over the city schools in 2002, his first major initiative was to crack down on “social promotion,” or allowing students to move to the next grade regardless of whether they passed the year’s state tests. The ban first took effect in third grade in 2004 — enabled by Bloomberg’s purge of critics from the city school board — and extended to all tested grades in 2009.

The proposed regulations, announced today, would roll back that policy for a small and particularly challenging segment of the student population: those who are overage for their grade and have been held back multiple times.

Of the roughly 9,200 students who were held back last year, 1,200 fit into that category, according to the Department of Education.

Under the current promotion policy, principals aren’t allowed to advance students who failed state tests under any circumstance. The new regulations would ease that rule, Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky wrote in a letter to principals this week.

“Beginning this summer, you may recommend these students for promotion in August if they have shown gains on multiple measures of performance,” the letter says. That means principals can now assess whether students should advance based on performance-based tasks and their school’s internal periodic standardized testing.

Critics of the social promotion ban have said they have seen some students stuck in a grade, unable to advance because of the state tests. Kim Sweet, executive director of Advocates for Children, said today that those students often become discouraged and are unlikely to advance.

“We ended up seeing students held back repeatedly that weren’t really getting extra help,” she said.

Pressed on this issue in 2009, Bloomberg said he was “speechless,” adding, “It’s pretty hard to argue that [the ban] does not work.”

Polakow-Suransky said today that, for the most part, the city’s promotion policy had worked. He cited a RAND study that found low-performing students who were held back performed better on state tests than students who weren’t held to the higher standard.

“It’s a relatively small and targeted adjustment to a policy that’s working 99 percent of the time,” he said of the proposed change.

But the new standard wasn’t benefiting students who were being held back year after year, Polakow-Suransky said.

“The needs of these kids are more complex,” he added, noting that roughly a quarter of the 1,200 students had recently been homeless.

In addition to giving principals more flexibility to promote these students, the city will also be giving schools $1,500 per student for intervention services. In all, the additional funding would total $1.8 million.

Polakow-Suransky said that he expected roughly 450 students to be promoted this summer as a result of the new policy.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.