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Opinion: Flunking might be helpful to some

First published in The Madera Tribune on Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013.

You will notice the Tribune has had stories about whether to flunk nonperforming students or continue the practice of social promotion. Educators don’t agree on whether holding a student back in a grade is very helpful.

I remember vividly that when I was in school, the possibility of flunking a grade and being held back a year was very real. It also was very motivating. Even more real was the possibility of “flunking out” and being denied a chance to attend school at all.

That was at a time when schools were funded mostly by local taxes. The schools weren’t paid by the state on a per-student basis as they are today. Thus, the school district I attended had little financial incentive to hang on to nonperforming or troublesome students.

The possibility of being held back a grade because you were unable to grasp course material was scary. That wasn’t supposed to happen in my family. Both my parents had been to college. Even a C average on my part would not have been tolerated. So, parental pressure and support on the one hand and the possibility of flunking on the other put the squeeze on me to do better.

I think it put the squeeze on a lot of students, because I don’t remember knowing very many people who were held back. No more than a couple of boys I knew had to sit through a grade twice.

I think it might have done them good. People mature at different rates. Age isn’t necessarily a determinant of whether you can read or count.

Madera Unified School District seems to have a good policy. When kids are recognized as being non-performing, the district provides help in the form of extra instruction. That may help some, but being held back a year could be helpful to others, as well. It shouldn’t be a punishment.


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