Social promotion: everything you need to know

Social promotion is the practice of promoting students into the next grade based on age and social criteria rather than on academic achievement. It is a policy shift that has been influenced by social and economic pressures as well as educational practice and research.

Almost all states have established high standards for student learning and are measuring their progress toward these standards using large-scale assessments.

What is Social Promotion?

Social promotion is the practice of moving students to the next grade level even when they have not met academic expectations. This practice can be contrasted with retention, the practice of holding students back and making them repeat a grade when they fail to meet academic standards.

In this era of national education reform, questions about social promotion are receiving growing attention. As part of school reform, many states have set high standards for their students and are using large-scale assessments to assess student achievement.

However, high standards alone will not lead to positive outcomes for all students. Rather, these policies will need to incorporate effective prevention and intervention strategies, as well as resources to successfully implement them in all school districts and geographic areas.

Why is Social Promotion Important?

Social promotion is the practice of advancing students to the next grade level even when they do not have the skills required in that grade. This is often done to help students with learning disabilities, or for other reasons.

Those who support social promotion argue that it is important for children to move up in school and develop their confidence and self-esteem. It also helps kids socialize with other students who are in their grade.

However, opponents to social promotion claim that it is a bad way to teach children and does nothing to help them match up academically with their peers. They also point out that students who have been socially promoted are more likely to drop out of school before graduating.

Research has shown that students who are promoted to a higher grade level and do not have the necessary skills are more likely to drop out of school, have less confidence in their abilities and are less prepared for the work force. This results in a society that needs to deal with a growing number of students who are not ready for college and the workforce.

How is Social Promotion Determined?

Social promotion is determined on a variety of criteria, including statewide or local assessment performance (n=13) and teacher input. The most common are statewide assessments, but there is also a good deal of emphasis on classroom or school input.

In fact, a majority of states with policies for social promotion have incorporated some form of test into the decision making process. The most common are statewide assessment tests in reading and math, but local assessments also play a role.

In the world of education policy, a combination of high standards, high quality data collection, and good accountability systems can result in either social promotion or retention. Identifying which is the most effective way to hold the system accountable for all students may be a daunting task, but it’s well worth the effort. The best way to do this is to consider the latest research and innovations related to testing and assessment in combination with other school reforms.

What are the Consequences of Social Promotion?

Social promotion can have negative consequences for students, especially those with disabilities. These consequences include dropping out of school, which can result in low income and lifetime earnings, high unemployment rates, and involvement in the criminal system (Grissom & Shepard, 1989).

In addition to students with disabilities, policies involving social promotion can be damaging for other student populations. For example, students with emotional and behavioral disorders are at increased risk for not completing school.

To assess the extent to which students with disabilities are included or excluded in social promotion policies, we reviewed 14 states that had social promotion policies in place or in development as of December 1999. We gathered information from public state documents available or referenced through state education department Web sites.


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