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New N.Y.C. Chancellor Reverses Promotion Policy

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Anthony J. Alvarado, New York City's new schools chancellor, has moved quickly to reverse promotion policies established by his predecessor that had repeatedly held back failing students in the nation's largest school system and would have created a special high-school track for such students.

Calling his move "a midcourse correction" rather than a repudiation of the promotion strategies of the former chancellor, Frank J. Macchiarola, Mr. Alvarado told members of the Board of Education he was cancelling the program that would have placed failing students in a "nonmatriculating" status, in which they could attend high school but would be ineligible for a regular diploma.

The nonmatriculating program was part of a widely publicized effort by Mr. Macchiarola to end social promotions and to place more emphasis on achievement.

Mr. Alvarado said that next September the approximately 20,000 failing students will move into special high-school classes that offer extensive remedial help; they still have an opportunity to earn a diploma if they pass the required state competency tests, he said.

"It is my intention to expand opportunities for all students rather than to limit access to high schools for some of our students," Mr. Alvarado told school-board members during a meeting last week at which he announced the new plan. The new chancellor does not need board approval to change the promotion policy, according to district officials.

At the meeting, Mr. Alvarado emphasized that his action will not lower standards, since all students still have to pass state competency tests to graduate.

But he is trying to eliminate "labels" on certain students, according to Robert Terte, a spokesman for the district. "He's concerned that adolescents are very much affected by this kind of labeling," Mr. Terte said. "They tend to live down to these expectations."

Recently, a number of school districts have abandoned social promotions--the practice of advancing students from grade to grade on the basis of age--and are now tying their promotion to test scores. The new approach, commonly called "promotional-gates," has been used in Atlanta, Dade County, Fla., Michigan, and in several other states. It was instituted by Mr. Macchiarola in 1981 in grades 4 and 7.

The New York system has been praised for its emphasis on excellence, but it has run into difficulty because some students repeatedly fail the 7th grade and are still in junior high school when they are 17 or 18 years old.

Mr. Alvarado announced that he will continue to hold back failing 7th graders for one year, but not for two years, as the Macchiarola promotion system required. If the 7th graders fail again , they will pass on to a new class with an 8th-grade curriculum, Mr. Terte said, instead of repeating the same curriculum for a third year. The classes will be smaller than usual and will offer remedial help, he added.

The special category of students who were to be called "nonmatriculating" students under the Macchiarola plan would have been those who had already failed 7th grade three times since the promotion policy started in 1981.

Mr. Alvarado said that category will be abolished and the students will go straight into regular high-school classes, but they will receive remedial help in the basic skills. Those students with low reading scores will study in special literacy centers to be offered in nine high schools, he told the board. The changes will take effect in September.

Reacting to Mr. Alvarado's decision, Paul Salmon, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, said he agreed with the new chancellor that schools cannot hold back students indefinitely. That can become "traumatic" for the student, he said. Mr. Salmon also noted that in cities with large numbers of minority students, the issue of promotion can be "a highly political problem."

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