While the focus has been on how many of last year's third-graders in Georgia's schools may repeat the grade because of failing the Reading Criterion Referenced Competency Test, perhaps we should talk about how many succeeded.

In Lowndes County schools, 97.8 percent of the system's 680 students succeeded, while 96 percent of Valdosta City schools' 564 third-graders passed the test. These percentages include 40 students from both systems who attended summer school, took the test again, and passed.

While everyone regrets to see possibly 26 students -- three in Lowndes and the rest in Valdosta -- repeat the grade, consider how many students might have sailed into fourth grade with poor reading skills if the CRCT had not become mandatory for promotion.

Some educators and others worry about teaching to the test, and this can become a problem. But the basic tenets of accountability standards in Georgia are sound: we must measure academic achievement, and we must have incentives. Until this year, too many students would simply go from grade to grade, and teachers simply had to deal with students who had not been forced to grasp the basics of English and math.

The system is neither arbitrary nor callous. First there is the opportunity for remedial instruction and a retest in the summer. Even if success is not achieved then, the student's status can be reviewed by a committee of the teacher, parent, principal and counselor to be sure retention is the best route.

For years, educators, policy makers and others have decried social promotion as one of the reasons for a weakened public education that has not kept U.S. students competitive on a global scale.

We're finally doing something about this practice. We should not vacillate from this new policy, at least at the third-grade level, when certain skills must be attained.

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