Should middle/junior high school students be retained?I am an 8th grade History teacher at a 7th/8th grade junior high.  In the two years at this school, students take 24 classes for a semester...

Should middle/junior high school students be retained?

I am an 8th grade History teacher at a 7th/8th grade junior high.  In the two years at this school, students take 24 classes for a semester grade.  Each semester grade is worth 5 credits for a possible total of 120 credits.  A student must have 110 credits to participate in promotion.  Last year I had a student who had failed 17 of those 24 classes and only had 35 credits.  Yet, because his mother put up such a fuss, the student will neither be retained nor sent to the alternative school for 7th/8th/9th graders, but will go on to the high school.  I found this incredible.

My question, should students who do not have enough credits to go through promotion be retained?

Expert Answers
Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I know a case can be made for social promotion; however, what message are we sending to a student of this age--old enough to connect the dots and fill in the blanks--when we pass him without his having met the requirements to do so?  Even more importantly, how about the message it sends to everyone else--it diminishes the efforts others put forth to accomplish the tasks as given.  Most students probably did so easily; but there were undoubtedly those who had to work very hard, who struggled, to meet the guidelines for advancement. 

I equate this with one of my pet peeves in the classroom:  Assigning a test or a project due, let's say, today; then, on the day it's due, because a few whiners give their sob stories, the teacher allows extra time. I did it once, thinking I was being magnanimous and gracious.  Then I saw the faces of those who had clearly spent time preparing--perhaps skipping a family dinner out or something else fun or rewarding--and I realized it was them I wanted to reward, not the whiners. 

This idea of advancement without merit is based on the same the same principle.  Okay, so perhaps the kid will be damaged by being a 17-year-old sophomore.  The damage to the system's credibility for everyone--literally, everyone--is far worse.  This underachieving student has a place to go if he chooses not to do what is expected of him; where are the rest to go if the system fails them?

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I absolutely believe a child who has failed to earn enough credits to pass should be retained. The child you mentioned has now learned (and probably not for the first time) that he can count on his parents to bail him out whenever he chooses to take the easy way out. Where were they during the time he was failing nearly three-quarters of his classes? I taught for many years in a middle school in which the principal often decided to "administratively pass" students who had failed for the year--including many who refused to take summer school classes in order to earn the credits on their own. Parents were usually involved, putting pressure on the teachers and principal to "give" their child a passing grade in the end, even though they had showed little interest in their child's poor grades during the course of the year. The local high school complained each and every year about the large number of students who were not prepared for high school academically when they entered the ninth grade. It's a way of passing the buck on to the next level, and principals should be ashamed of themselves for taking such actions.

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Absolutely!  If the child failed so many of the courses he was required to take for promotion, he most certainly has not gained the study skills and concepts that he needs to be successful in the next level.  His mother is setting him up for future failure,  which I guess you can breathe more easily since it won't be your problem anymore. How upsetting and frustrating for you.  Of course, the high school teachers will look at this child and blame the middle school for not properly preparing him without knowing the seems that every year I hear teachers in the colleges complaing that the high schools don't prepare the students for college; the high school teachers are blaming the middle schools for sending them students who aren't ready; and the middle school teachers point the fingers at the elementary schools.  Who is helping the parents undestand that they are responsible for making sure their children are learning what they need to know to be successful, responsible, and productive citizens of their communities?

M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

They certainly should! It is no point sending an unprepared student to fail further in high school. The fact that they have not been able to comply with developmentally-appropriate activities shows that the child might just be immature both academically and socially. The result would be a drag in the student's self esteem and initiative. Amazing what parents do to keep up with the Joneses these days! What could be a good option may be to call it a different name. Instead of calling it "retention" (which parents dread) we can call it Student Improvement Program, and make it twice as rich and filled with learning experiences so that the parents can see how hard we are trying on our end. Maybe if the student STILL cannot function with a personalized improvement program the parents may be curious about possibilities such as LD or simply allow their kids to repeat.

It's a very good question which is very hard to answer because parents do not make it any easy either.

susan3smith eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Perhaps social promotion in middle school is responsible for the high failure rate we experience on the ninth grade level in high school.  Our freshmen just don't see the importance of completing assignments, attending class, or studying for tests.  Therefore, our failure rate hovers around 65 per cent for our ninth graders.  This is horrible. 

I can see what the middle schools are up against-- having a large eighth grade student sitting with much smaller seventh graders.  Nevertheless, if he or she has not mastered the material in the earlier grades, promotion to the next grade level should not be automatic. 

Ideally there should be some type of intervention taking place to help these students catch up.  Tutors should be on hand, special classes offered.  But of course, these resources or not available in the real world. 

drmonica eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Retention of students in junior high school is one of the strongest indicators of a future dropout in high school. I do not advocate retention of any student. HOWEVER, I do believe that high schools need to pretest those students and offer remediation of any deficits. Sometimes students have the skills but have knowledge gaps. Remediation should be noncredit but required before students can take credit courses.

I realize that students who know they will go on to high school regardless of middle school credit status are not as motivated. Nonetheless, this is as much a teaching problem as it is a student problem. Teachers in the middle grades have got to look at what they do in their classrooms to figure out why some kids are unmotivated to do the work.

clairewait eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with retaining students for failure in grades where the failure is more likely due to lack of effort than understanding.  That said, I think in the way of maturity, JUNIOR HIGH as a 7th-9th grade and HIGH school as 10th-12th was far more successful than pushing the 6th and 9th graders up to a place they largely aren't ready for, socially.

I think if we set these kids up to maintain a position of leadership in their schools (as 6th graders in elementary and 9th graders in the junior high) they are far more likely to succeed and leave a legacy.

martinjmurphy eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I began this discussion and would like to respond to drmonica post # 10.  It seems to me that drmonica is laying the blame for this student's academic record on his teachers and that his teachers need to motivate these students to do well.  The student who I refered to in my initial post  had at least 10 different teachers who gave him a failing grade.  Many of these teachers have been recognized for being outstanding educators.  I am just wondering what drmonica might suggest these middle school teachers do to motivate their students.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

How frustrating for you! How do you cope with that?! As others have commented there is absolutely NO benefit to either the student or the school at large to allow students to progress in their education if they have so obviously not reached the required level. I believe it will damage those students long term and negatively impact their future education. Can anything be done to educate the parents about these issues? I feel your pain.

krishna-agrawala | Student

The system of passing or promoting the students on the basis of results of exams or credits earned by them is being debated by many responsible educationists. However, I do not think that any responsible person would support promotion of students on the basis of amount of fuss put in by their mothers.

It appears quite unlikely to me that a school would have taken the kind of action described in post #1, unless the fuss created by the mother did uncover some serious discrepancies in awarding credit to the student affected.

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