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Committee discusses preventing social promotion

WORTHINGTON -- The Instructional Committee discussed Monday the problem of social promotion -- allowing students to advance in grade level despite inadequate academic performance -- in what is likely to be an ongoing discussion for the District 518 Board of Education.

"Are kids being social-promoted? I think if you look at (Prairie) Elementary, I'd say definitely no. In (Worthington) Middle School, the problem exists. In (Worthington) High School, the answer is no, because if they don't have enough credits, they don't graduate," said District 518 Superintendent John Landgaard.

In WHS, class level is based on credits, so social promotion cannot really occur, Landgaard explained. In addition, in order to graduate, students must have 30 credits and pass standardized statewide reading and writing tests in order to graduate. In addition, they must either pass a standardized math test or get additional math help and attempt the test again.

In elementary school, promotion to the next grade level is based on the needs of individual students. Kids who are having academic issues are specifically identified and given additional assistance to try to get them caught up to their grade level, as quickly as possible.

The middle school, however, can pose difficulties the other grade levels do not.

"It's a problem age. It's a problem area," Landgaard said. "That's a huge transitional time for a lot of kids. And you have to try and meet all their needs, not just a few."

In the middle school, it is possible for a student to fail two classes but still move on to the next grade.

Complicating the issue are nontraditional students, who might return to school after a long absence. What should the school system do with a 20-year-old with a seventh-grade level education? What should be done with a 17-year-old who reads at a sixth-grade level?

Some of these students have gone to the Area Learning Center, where they are given more individualized programming that takes account of their ages and needs.

"If a child isn't successful in the grade they're in, hopefully we're catching it before (the end of the year). Hopefully, we've done more during the year before we get to that point," said Steve Schnieder, school board and committee member, emphasizing students need to be given many opportunities to succeed. "Passing them on at that level is inappropriate."

Lori Dudley, another board member, noted the retention policy at the middle school level was inadequate.

"We need another track for some of these kids that are failing," Dudley said. "... we need to hold students accountable, and parents."

Tricia Denzer, District 518's director of special programs, is already working on a more systematic intervention procedure to identify students having problems more quickly.

Another issue is that many students who are retained drop out of school -- sometimes more than once.

"We're going to take a look at what we're doing and how we're acting, what we need to change and how we need to address student handbooks, policies and our future direction," Landgaard said.

In other news Monday, the Instructional Committee:

* Discussed the rate of substitute pay in after-school programs, which has been inconsistent. The committee asked for more information about how often substitutes are required and how much they cost the district and tabled the issue without making a recommendation for the board to vote on.

* Agreed to recommend the hiring of a half-time teacher for the ECFE program for the remainder of the school year. The program had 46 students last year and 63 this year, with numbers likely to increase, and classrooms are already full.

The position will be funded with special education federal dollars.

* Gave the go-ahead for WHS Principal Paul Karelis to hire an additional English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher, due to the student count reaching 25, 27 and 30 students in the three classrooms. The school expects to gain another 10 to 15 students in between quarters.

A paraprofessional will be hired to assist the teachers until the new teacher arrives.