In my state, there is a mandatory third grade retention for any child who does not pass our state's standardized assessment test. Under this policy, a child can be held back up to twice by the end of third grade. Over the past three years that the policy has been in place, it has been tweaked a bit annually. For the most part, though, it has stayed strong. It is part of the "No Child Left Behind Act".
I have seen kids who were 11 and still in the third grade...kids who truly HAVE been left behind. I have seen anger, frustration, and resentment. I have also seen success stories...kids who rose to the occasion and showed "on level" work by the end of the year because someone believed in them. Mostly, though, the stories have been very sad. Kids who have been behind since day one of PreK or K and are still lagging behind...kids who lack resources and support at home...kids who struggle at everything...are often the ones who are victims of this law. They don't seem any better off for their retention...they only seem older, taller and more aware of the difference in them and their peers.
This week, I saw a light, a glimmer of hope for the future of 12 such children. These 12 children had the right score on a district assessment. I am not sure who determined the "right score"...although I think it is correlated to our state assessment program. These 12 children met the "cut-off" to be promoted mid-year (right away) to the fourth grade.
Whether you philosophically agree or not, it is important to think about the self-esteem boost that this could potentially give some students and their parents. It is also important to realize that this could keep them from falling into the same trap again come testing time.
Each year, in May, I often find myself fielding calls from distraught parents and trying to offer them hope. Today I had the pleasure of calling some of these same parents (and grandparents) to tell them the good news.
The first call I made was to T's Grandma. She and I had spent hours on the phone at the end of last year as we talked about her hopes and dreams for her grand daughter. She told me that T's mother was in jail and she wasn't about to let that same thing happen to T. She was angry, hurt and frustrated with the system. After a VERY LONG phone conversation, she and I had connected. I promised that I would watch T's placement this year (and I did). I promised that we would have T tested for possible learning disabilities (and we are). And I promised that we would do all we can for her "little girl" (and we have).
Today when I called, I told her the "good news" and T's Grandma said, "Girl, you are lying! Shut up! You must be lying!" Then as the truth sank in and I assured her that I was speaking the truth--her joy bubbled up into our conversation! She said Monday is her birthday and she just received the BEST present ever. She promised to keep working with T and help her.
Every call was similar. There was the mother who said, " I have to rush out and get a cake and balloons. We need to celebrate!" There was the Dad that was obviously moved to tears as he choked, "I am so excited!"
I wanted to cry! Each and every call reminded me of the human element in all of it. No matter how nicely you try to package it...in our state we call it the "Gift of Time"...it's failure in the eyes of so many.
Offering these students and their families hope, I think, was one of the most powerful things we could ever do. These are the kids I'd like to "track"...I hope that this one act made a difference. I hope that they will realize that they ARE somebody and that they CAN be a productive and important member of our society.
No matter what happens in their future, I suspect those students might sit a little taller and try a littler harder on Monday. After all...they're "Movin' On Up"!