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July 10. 2013 8:21PM

NH schools review wisdom of promoting struggling students

NASHUA — Whether public schools should hold struggling students back a grade is a planned topic of discussion in Nashua tonight.

Keeping back kids doesn’t happen often in the state’s public schools. In fact, less than 1 percent of students in New Hampshire repeat grades, according to the state Department of Education.“I came on the board four years ago with one thing fixed in my mind,” said Dennis Ryder, a member of the Nashua Board of Education’s ad hoc committee on goals and objectives, when the topic of retention was raised at the committee’s June meeting.

“I think it’s very wrong to promote the child to the next grade who cannot do the work. I think that is totally, completely wrong and against the idea of education in my mind.”

The group is scheduled to meet at 6:30 tonight in the School Administrative Building, at 141 Ledge St. Members will review short- and long-term goals for Nashua’s school district and policies for students who fail to keep up academically with their peers are high on the list.

Decisions on whether to promote students to the next grade or hold them back for a year are typically made in elementary and middle school. In high school, grade levels and graduation are determined by the number of credits students earn.

According to Nashua’s current policy, holding students back for a year deprives them of age-appropriate relationships, compromises their confidence and puts them at risk for dropping out of school. Teachers are required to communicate with parents if retention looks like a possible option and there are specific guidelines on how the decisions are made.

Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas, who chairs that city’s school board, said he recalled the board in recent years discussing the issue of schools moving flunking students to the next grade.

“The board took the position we should not be approving social graduation,” Gatsas said. “I think obviously the more you continue to move students on without them having the knowledge is what creates the problem when they get to grades six, seven and eight and in high school. At some point, that’s probably what drives someone to say I don’t have the knowledge and I’m dropping out.”

Manchester Superintendent of Schools Debra Livingston, who started July 1, said she hasn’t seen figures on how many Manchester students are held back a grade.

“My personal view is that first of all, it’s a student-by-student decision and the parents need to be very involved,” Livingston said. “I’ve seen retention work for some students.”

School officials would “make sure there’s a specific plan to help close that educational gap,” Livingston said.

In addition to promotion and retention, the Nashua group also will delve into the idea of summer school, which started Monday at Nashua High School South and runs through Aug. 1. Classes are from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and each course costs $200. There are no reductions in fees for students from low-income families.

In addition to summer school, Nashua also offers other opportunities for “credit recovery,” including a state-funded, after-school program that allows students to make up academic work with teachers.

But some members of Nashua’s school board feel compulsory summer school for students who fail courses is a simple requirement that makes sense and other alternatives negatively affect the value of a Nashua high school diploma.

“We’re issuing diplomas to kids who can’t do the work,” said Ryder. “I think we ought to establish more forms of diplomas like graduated but didn’t pass. We need a little bit of honesty in this area.”

btaromina@newstote.com


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