The key to this coming together? The report from the Ministry of Education on how many children are "retained" in one grade while the remainder of their age-group cohort advances to the next grade. The article doesn't specify how these were obtained (simple request? Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act request?) but they're the foundation of the answer to the likely question asked in that newsroom. The chart doesn't reproduce well on the website (likely looked way sharper in print) but shows how few are held back.
Frank Fera, one of two Catholic board trustees representing Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the- Lake, said he's fairly certain the number of elementary students that fail a grade in any given year is zero or pretty close to it.The graphic with the article and its first few paragraphs seem written to elicit shock and outrage, but then the sources quoted are like a wet blanket on getting pissed off about students being promoted from year to year independent of academic progress. The verbage at-risk is (or was, at one point) meant to mean "at risk" of not graduating— or, er, becoming an "early school leaver" in ministry parlance at one point.
"I don't know of any principals at this time who are retaining students," said Fera, who served 34 years as an elementary school principal and teacher in Niagara and 10 years as a trustee. "It's a philosophy we don't believe in at this time.
"Even when I was an educator, we never retained students at that time."
Like (Niagara Catholic dir of ed John) Crocco, Fera supports the concept of social promotion — passing underachievers along to the next higher grade with their peers while at the same time providing remedial supports to the students.
Both cite a large body of research over the past 40 years that concludes failing students, particularly those at the elementary level, does more harm than good.
Fera said he believes the majority of parents of elementary children know their children will in all likelihood be promoted, even in cases where a student's grades show achievement below provincial standards in multiple areas.
Ontario's elementary school report cards include a section that indicates the student's current promotion status. Students are judged to fall into one of three categories: "progressing well toward promotion," "progressing with some difficulty toward promotion" or "promotion at risk."
"If you want my personal opinion on that, it's a sort of cover-your-ass sort of thing," said Fera. "They put it on there in the (event) a child is retained and they then have to justify it, so they say, 'Well, here, we put it up at the top that the child was at risk.
"But in most cases today, there's communication with parents all of the time, so the parents are aware the child is not functioning where he should be or she should be. And at the same time, there are programs in place to help every child."
Can an "at-risk" student still find success in high school and as an adult? I think so, provided there are reasonable options to accommodate their skills, abilities and interests in high school that lead either directly to workplace and apprenticeships or to post-secondary programs. Are these alternate successes any better than the old-fashioned failing elementary numerous times and then dropping out? Or, going back to the even-older days, not really caring about whether a child failed in elementary because they just had to know enough (at the time) to farm or work on the shop floor?
This was the subject of some recent back-and-forth between myself and a few anonymous folks in the comment section of a recent post— but this article doesn't seem to hammer the nail in the coffin on whether or not practice should change when it comes to social promotion.
Kudos to the Review however— asking the ministry for the rates is not something I would have thought to do. I've been scooped.