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Expressing 'Alarm,' N.A.E.S.P. Votes To Oppose Retaining Pupils in Grade

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Citing research showing that requiring children to repeat grades is more harmful than beneficial, the National Association of Elementary School Principals passed a resolution last week opposing the practice.

The resolution, which was voted on at the group's annual convention in Anaheim, Calif., expressed "alarm" at the approximately 2.3 million chil dren each year who are not promoted.

"N.a.e.s.p. believes that such policies deprive the child of age-appropriate relationships, place the child 0 at risk of dropping out of school, and adversely affect the child's self-concept and level of confidence," the resolution stated.

Most of the opposition to the measure--which passed by a vote of 228 to 184--was from principals from Texas and New York.

The Texas principals said they feared it would jeopardize special classes to ease the transition between prekindergarten or kindergarten and the 1st grade for children considered developmentally immature.

Such transition programs have become widespread throughout the nation. But they have been especially controvesial in Texas, where the state board of education last summer approved a groundbreaking policy banning retention in prekindergarten and kindergarten.

The board recently softened its stance following a backlash from parents who favor transition programs. But it continues to sound caution on their use. (See Education Week, April 10, 1991.)

Although they backed the thrust of the n.a.e.s.p. resolution, several New York principals opposed it on the grounds that it was worded too strongly, according to Lillian Brinkley, president-elect of the n.a.e.s.p. and chairman of the panel that drafted the measure.

Ms. Brinkley defended the panel's choice of words, saying it felt it "had to make a strong statement" after studying the issue.

"The research basically shows retention is more of a detriment to the progress of the child than to helping the child," she said. ''We could not find any preponderance of research that showed [it] was effective."

While the n.a.e.s.p. has no official stand on transition programs, the resolution opposing retention urges principals to work with other administrators and legislators "to seek creative alternatives.''

Ms. Brinkley's suggestions includ ed providing a support system of peers, adult volunteers, or older students to tutor children; encouraging consultation between former and future teachers; and pairing slower pu pils with higher achievers.

Other suggestions to help pupils who are falling behind included smaller classes, summer school or ex tended school-year sessions, and mid- year promotions.

Recess Survey

Also at its convention, the group released a survey that found that a majority of principals support school recess, saying it brings children back to the classroom more alert, calm, and productive.

Of 383 principals surveyed, only 33 are at schools with no recess, and 237 said recess has educational as well as social value, especially if it is "well staffed and planned."

Many respondents said recess sometimes results in accidents, in juries, and fights, with most attributing the problem to a lack of structure or supervision. While 217 said training teachers in recess supervi sion would be helpful, only 49 of their schools offered such training.

Among the respondents in schools that have changed their recess policies recently, 11 said they had elimi nated it; 28 had expanded it; 38 had made it more structured; and 1 had made it less structured.

At its convention, the n.a.e.s.p. also issued a new version of "Proficiencies for Principals," a booklet of fering guidance on skills needed to be a "top notch" elementary or middle-school principal.

To help head off a shortage of K-8 principals--half of whom the n.a.e.s.p. predicts will retire this decade--the group issued a brochure to entice high-school and col lege students to consider careers as principals. According to a survey re leased at the convention, the average salary for a principal was $51,453 last year.

For information on how to order "An Introduction to the K-8 Principal" or "Proficiencies for Principals," write to the n.a.e.s.p., 1615 Duke St., Alexandria, Va. 22314.

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