Friday, July 25, 2008

Holding Back Young Students: Is Program a Gift or a Stigma?

In New York...

Published: June 25, 2008

SPRING VALLEY, N.Y. — With the increasing emphasis on standardized testing over the past decade, large urban school systems have famously declared an end to so-called social promotion among youngsters lacking basic skills. Last year, New York flunked 6 percent of its first graders, and Chicago 7.7 percent.

Now the 8,400-student East Ramapo school district in this verdant stretch west of the Palisades is going further, having revived a controversial retention practice widely denounced in the 1980s to not only hold back nearly 12 percent of its first graders this spring but to segregate them in a separate classroom come fall.

The special classes, which are limited to 15 students and follow a pared-down curriculum of reading, writing and arithmetic, are called the Gift of Time and come with extras like tutoring and field trips to a local farm.

School officials say that adding resources — about $2,000 per child, in a district whose average general-education spending per pupil is about $13,000 — and tailoring the lessons for low-performers works. Nearly 80 percent of the 54 first graders and 47 second graders in Gift of Time classes this past school year now read at grade level (although they are, of course, a year behind their age group); at least 30 percent of the younger group and 11 percent of the older group are above grade level, according to district evaluations performed last month.

Iraida Hada, the principal of Hempstead Elementary here, said that merely holding

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