A mother in the Bronx is arguing against the social promotion of her 11-year-old son with special needs because she believes he is not ready for 6th grade. What the mother is asking for seems reasonable—if her son has failed to master 5th grade work, why would he be able to do 6th grade work? Yet, the school’s desire to socially promote the student is unusual. But is the alternative, grade retention, a more viable option?
Social promotion became popular in the 1970s due to fears that its alternative; namely, retention, led to issues with self-esteem for those students who were “flunked” a grade. However, social promotion fell into disfavor in the 1980s with the recognition that students who were receiving high school diplomas were ill-prepared for either college or work. Social promotion went on to became a political issue when President Clinton, in his 1999 State of the Union Address, declared that, “No child should graduate from high school with a diploma he or she can’t read. We do our children no favors when we allow them to pass from grade to grade without mastering the material.”