Published Online: January 24, 2001
Published in Print: January 24, 2001, as State Journal

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Ready or not?

Ronald F. Wolff, the superintendent of a 2,000-student school district in northeastern Utah, couldn't stand hearing students ask why they should make an effort in their 8th grade classes if their grades wouldn't count until high school anyway.

What really bothered him, he said, was that the students were basically right.

That's because in Utah, state law requires educators to promote 8th graders to high school—even if they fail core academic courses. They are then expected to receive remedial instruction.

But that promotion policy would change under a bill that Sen. David Gladwell plans to sponsor this legislative session at the request of Mr. Wolff and other educators in the Morgan school district. The measure would allow districts to set up exit criteria that students would have to meet in order to advance to high school.

"We are not too excited about having kids who can drive themselves to middle school," Mr. Wolff said. "We just don't want them to be able to refuse help and remediation in an environment where there is no accountability."

The proposal comes as more states are starting to adopt accountability measures affecting students in the middle grades. Louisiana and New Mexico have 8th grade exit exams, for instance, and Delaware is slated to have such an exam in place next year.

The Utah bill would give school boards there "the authority that a lot of districts have" already, said David Griffith, a spokesman for the National Association of State Boards of Education.

"But, on the other hand, the early-adolescent years are very tough as it is," he observed. "I understand the idea behind advancing students to high school for social-promotion reasons."

Still, Mr. Wolff said he doesn't believe that high school is the appropriate place for students to catch up on skills they should have mastered in middle school.

"We can't help everyone," he said. "But if we get to those students who need additional support in the 5th, 6th, 7th, or 8th grade, they will have a better chance at succeeding in high school."

—Lisa Fine

Vol. 20, Issue 19, Page 14

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