Few students retained under NYC’s end-to-social-promotion policy

Teacher Helping Boy With SchoolworkNew York City’s policy of not allowing social promotion but identifying and providing academic services to children at risk of retention has been successful in helping children meet standards while avoiding retention for all but a small percentage of children, concludes a recent RAND Corp.

As few as 2-3% of 5th-grade students were retained in the 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 cohorts and 1% in the 2006-2007 cohort for a total of 600 retained students out of 58,000 students overall, the study found.

As part of NYC’s overhaul of the public school system launched in 2002, schools implemented a new promotion and retention policy for students in grades 3, 5, 7, and, most recently, 8. The city wanted to walk away from social promotion while giving students ample opportunities to avoid retention.

To be promoted, students must score at or above performance level 2 in a system of 4 perform levels with 4 being exceeds standards and 1 that the student shows serious acacemic difficulties.

The 5th-grade policy places considerable emphasis on identifying students at the beginning of the school year who are at risk of being retained. These students must receive academic intervention services. This could include differentiated instruction in the classroom or small-group instruction. Students who score at level 1 are encouraged to enroll in Saturday school programs.

Students who do not score at level 2 in the spring are mandated to attend summer school. If they do not meet standards at the end of summer school, their portfolio of work is reviewed and a promotion or retention decision is then made.

Three groups of students are exceptions to the promotion policy: students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), English Language Learners enrolled in an English-language school for less than 2 years and charter school students.

The National Research Council recommends that schools can make test-based promotion decision fairer and more valid by adopting the following strategies: (1) identifying at-risk or struggling students early so they can be targeted for extra help; (2) providing students with multiple opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge through repeated testing with alternate forms or other appropriate means; (3) taking into account other relevant information about individual students.


Ending Social Promotion Without Leaving Children Behind: The Case of New York City, Jennifer Sloan McCombs, et al., eds., Rand Corp., 2009.

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