"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Monday, June 16, 2014

To Retain Or Promote: Asking the Right Question

Retention versus promotion, according to the National Association of School Psychologists, is a wrong way of looking at education. Educators must instead focus on providing all students access to effective and equitable education. A student failing to learn inside a classroom strikes deep at the heart of an educational system. Mass promotion, on the other hand, allows children to be passed to the next level with no accountability. The issue of retention versus promotion has been the subject of a recent news item in the Philippines:

Screen capture from News5 Everywhere
DepEd Order No. 73. S. 2012 defines promotion and retention by subject and not grade level. It is not surprising then that there is confusion. Students who fail in a subject are expected to erase these deficiencies over the summer. Right at the beginning, there is the question of how a student who failed because of truancy would fit in this procedure. Absenteeism is one of the most common causes of a child failing in an elementary class. A student who has failed to attend most of the classes is expected to make up all of the subjects over the summer. Thus, it seems that the teachers are indeed correct in interpreting the DepEd Order. It is mass promotion. After all, retention is not something proponents of the new K+12 curriculum would like to hear or see. On top of this, the performance ratings of a teacher are affected by retention. There is additional incentive.

Retention versus promotion has been the topic of various research studies in the past decades. The number of studies unfortunately does not translate to how well effects of retention versus mass promotion on learning outcomes are now understood. There is great difficulty in deciphering exactly how retention or promotion affects education for one important reason: The fact that retention versus promotion is being considered means that something is already wrong. Otherwise, there would not be any question. Factors affecting learning outcomes are already present so that what happens in the future probably does not depend too much on whether a student is retained or promoted. What matters more is what educators do in response when a student is not meeting the expected goals. This goes far beyond retaining or promoting. Neither retention nor promotion really addresses the problem. It is this reason why studies on how retention affects students over the past decades has been unclear. The following are examples. The first shows that retention benefits students:

Here is one that shows that retention is detrimental:

Lastly, the following shows that we are simply asking the wrong question:

The more important question therefore is what to do when students are failing. One of the studies cited above, the one from Texas, suggests that what a school does in response to low achieving students is crucial. This is highlighted in the paragraph below:

DepEd Order No. 73. S. 2012 provides the steps that need to be taken when students fail. It is described in one short paragraph within the 125-page memo:

Here then is a short intellectual exercise. As demonstrated in this blog through numerous articles, poorer learning outcomes correlate strongly with poverty and shortages in resources. Thus, it is only expected that failing students are going to be more common in schools that are overcrowded, under-resourced, and poorly staffed. These schools are likewise employing multiple shifts and large pupil to teacher ratios because of lack of classrooms and teachers. Thus, it is in these schools that DepEd expects teachers to find extra time to help struggling students. It is in these schools where there are not enough classrooms that low achieving students are expected to undergo remediation after class hours. It is in these schools where teachers are overworked that teachers are required to spend extra time with poor students. It is in these schools where there are gross shortages in resources that students are required to take summer classes. This only shows how seriously DepEd considers learning outcomes in its new curriculum. DepEd is not serious at all. Teachers are smart enough to see what the memo really says. If the actions required with retention are impossible then the teachers are correct in interpreting the order as mass promotion.

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