Held Back

Eager to toughen the standards in public schools, politicians are calling for an end to social promotion. But forcing kids to repeat a grade may hurt more than help

Lashawnda Walker is an industrious, C-average eighth-grader with an impeccable attendance record at Doolittle East middle school in Chicago. But a little over a year ago she faltered at crunch time, and she has paid a stinging price ever since. In the spring of 1998 Walker scored well below her grade level on the reading section of the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills. Chicago's widely hailed policy aimed at ending social promotion--the practice of automatically passing students to the next grade--required her to attend summer school. At the end of it she fell short again, which meant she had to repeat...

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