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What Doesn't Work: Explaining Policies of Retention in the Early Grades

Mary Lee Smith and Lorrie A. Shepard

If any trend could be said to grow even as we watch, it would be the move away from what has been called 'social promotion': the current increase in policies that permit the retention of young children for a second year in a given grade. Some reformers have advocated promotion from grade to grade strictly on the basis of achievement rather than age or attendance. Some states and school districts have responded by instituting 'promotional gates' that swing open when pupils pass tests and slam shut when they fail. A recent survey shows that such policies are apt to be popular: 72% of the citizens questioned said that 'promotion from grade to grade should be more strict than it is now; though there was no indication that those questioned knew (except vaguely) what promotional policies were actually in effect.

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