14 Social Promotion Pros and Cons

In the United States, there have been many calls to change the effectiveness of the educational system. From a Common Core curriculum to standardized testing, the goal has been to make sure that no child is left behind. Some school districts have taken this philosophy and created a system known as “social promotion.”

What is social promotion? It is a system which allows children to be promoted to their next grade level even if their grades and test scores do not meet the mandatory requirements. Is this regular practice beneficial for children… or is it harmful? Here is a look at the pros and cons.

What Are the Pros of Social Promotion?

The primary benefit of social promotion is that children aren’t forced to have their friends leave them behind. There is more to a student’s educational well-being that must be consider. Their psychological needs and their social needs must also be considered. Social promotion helps to bring that consideration to the table so that the whole student can be examined instead of just their learning abilities.

1. It discourages the issues that re-learning an entire grade may bring.
Students that are left behind to repeat a grade are often discouraged because they have to re-learn everything that they’ve just learned. In the mind of the student, it is not their fault that they are struggling to comprehend certain issues. Social promotion eliminates this almost vengeful line of thinking so that students can always look forward to something new.

2. It promotes the child’s self-esteem.
Society today has become very focused on the self-esteem of a student. We want our children to be confident in who they are and what they can do. Social promotion helps to increase self-esteem because it allows a student to continue progressing despite sometimes difficult circumstances. In essence, it allows a child to feel good about themselves because they see themselves as being competitive with their peers.

3. It eliminates the difficulties students face with retention.
Multiple studies have shown that the academic achievement of students who are retained for a grade is less than that of those who are promoted. Even though a student may not meet the testing standards of promotion at first, the chances of increasing their learning tend to be enhanced more through social promotion than they would through grade retention.

4. It stops students from dropping out of school.
One of the most powerful predictors of a student choosing to drop out of high school is having at least one instance of grade retention in their academic history. For those that do not drop out, there are higher risk factors for problem behaviors, truancy, and unhealthy peer relationships that can damage their future employment and educational potential throughout life. Although there is a legitimate debate to be had between keeping kids in school for the sake of being in school or doing something they’re passionate about, students who stay in their grades are more likely to stay in school.


5. It eliminates labels and generalizations.
When grade retention is considered a first option over social promotion, it tends to affect certain students more than others. Those who are younger in their grade, come from poor households, or have frequent absences tend to be held back more often. Boys are more likely to be held back than girls. By having a system of social promotion that addresses these remedial issues when they exist, students are more likely to see positive educational gains.

6. It eliminates the consequences of physical development in students of different ages.
Although there are fewer ramifications in the early grades if retention is practiced, in the 7-12 grade years the results can be enormous. Students held back may be more physically mature than their counterparts, which draws attention to their differences – even from the teachers. Social promotion creates consistency throughout the classroom environment so that teaching occurs without the distractions that retained students sometimes bring.

7. It reduces the threat of large classroom sizes.
In a study of student performance by the LA Unified School District in January 2000, it was determined that 67% of students in Grade 8 and up to 60% of students in grades 2-7 would have to be retained. Social promotion eliminates the need of high classroom numbers or additional teachers being on staff for extraordinarily high numbers on certain years, creating predictability and stability within the district budget.

What Are the Cons of Social Promotion?

The primary disadvantage of the social promotion system in schools is that it may discourage the concept of working and studying hard. What motivation do students have to work on something if they know they’ll be going to the next grade anyway? In the upper grades, sports requirements may encourage harder work for some students, but not all. Without a motivation factor in place, no learning may take place.

1. It creates the potential for non-educated students.
If students are just promoted to the next grade no matter what, it means they may graduate without having the essential knowledge and skills that are required for a good job. It is difficult to be as productive in today’s society without key skills like reading, comprehension, and mathematics. It may even mean that businesses would be forced to invest into their own remedial education systems as part of their new employee training to bridge the learning gap.

2. It provides parents with a false sense of confidence.
Parents today for the most part didn’t grow up in an era of social promotion. One of the greatest fears that students had, in fact, was being stuck in the same grade when their peers were being promoted to the next. Every borderline student was encouraged and helped by their friends, even in class, to make sure they had every opportunity to advance. Parents remember and expect this system in schools today, so a promotion is often seen as learning advancement when it may not be at all.

3. It lessens the role of the teacher.
In today’s society, teacher’s unions are already coming under fire because of their costs. When social promotion occurs and children are advanced to the next grade even if they’re not competent enough in their skills to be promoted, the role of the teacher is greatly minimized. Why should teachers earn merit pay or get raises and additional benefits if the policy of a district is to promote all of the students all of the time?

4. It takes away the personal touch that education used to provide.
In the past, students received different levels of attention based on their abilities to learn. Students who were considered gifted and talented would often receive their assignments and be allowed to work on their own with the ability to ask questions when needed. Those who needed more personalized attention would then receive it. Social promotion takes away this personal touch because everyone winds up being treated the same way.

5. It sets the bar low.
Humans may have individual differences, but they all have one thing in common: they work toward the goal that others set for them. If expectations are set low, than that’s as far as a student will go. Students who understand that they will be passed have no incentive beyond reaching those minimum levels of achievement, never really fulfilling their true potential. Learning to set the bar low often means students will set the bar low for themselves later on in life.

6. It creates a false sense of accomplishment.
Students who are not proficient in certain subjects, but advanced anyway, may feel like they have mastered a core subject when they really haven’t learned anything at all. When this outcome is finally discovered, and it will be at some point in time, it creates frustration for everyone involved. Teachers feel powerless and resentful for the lack of success previous grades have provided. Students feel frustrated because they feel betrayed by the school system. Employers get frustrated because they can’t find quality workers.

7. It effectively eliminates the need for a school to exist.
If students can be promoted no matter what, then there really is no need to have a public school. Students could learn at their own pace and on their own time at home. This eliminates the costs of classrooms, lessens the need for educational oversight, and allows children to learn in the way that suits them the best – even if that means no learning happens at all. If schools can do that, why shouldn’t parents be allowed to do the same thing?

The pros and cons of social promotion show that there are some positive attributes to it, but there needs to be some level of accountability. Confidence and self-esteem are important, but they can’t take the place of an education. By creating solid policies on performance, creating residual programs, and offering the chance for retained students to return to their grade-level peers, a better balance could be achieved.

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