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Promotion Guidelines Result in Retentions For 1 in 4 Students

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Benton Harbor, Mich--Twenty-two percent of the youngest students in this western Michigan school district were flunked this month under new minimum standards set by the local school board.

Following a "learning by objective" policy, the board held back 460 of its 2,083 students in kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grades.

"No one is happy with the fact that almost a quarter of our kids lack the skills," said James Hawkins, superintendent of schools, "but we're here to do a job."

Under the minimum standards, kindergarten students were required to print their first name, recognize basic geometric shapes, and follow spoken directions such as, "Walk to the table," and "Put your hand on your head." One hundred seventy-two of the district's 714 kindergartners were unable to meet the objectives.

Benton Harbor has been under a federal-court busing order for the past two years. Most of the district's 9,000 students are black and poor; the city has long had high unemployment and large welfare rolls.

Reading Assessment Test Scores

In 1980, only 33 percent of the district's 4th graders had satisfactory scores on the annual Michigan assessment test in reading. Last year, 44 percent obtained satisfactory scores, but the state's average is more than 72 percent.

"Something had to be done about it," Mr. Hawkins said. "It was obvious the kids were not reaching basic skills levels. After a lot of study, we decided to establish some performance standards."

Mr. Hawkins said that some of the students who failed will get a chance during summer school to fulfill the objectives.

The minimum-standards program will be extended to cover grades 3 and 4 next fall and grades 5 and 6 in 1983. Mr. Hawkins said he anticipates an initial high rate of failure in those grades when the standards are first applied.

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