Which is scarier: a high-school student who can't read or a fifth grader with a beard? Since 2002-03, Texas has required third and fifth graders to pass a test in order to move on to the next grade level. The law, brainchild of then-Governor George W. Bush, does allow an exception: If a committee of parent, teacher, and principal agrees that a certain student should move to the next grade despite failing the test, that student can be promoted. The exception has now become the rule. Only 20 percent of fifth graders who fail the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) are held back. But the promotion is not without justification. Researcher Jay Greene points out that "there may well be harm from the social disruption caused by retaining an older student," especially for a fifth grader, all of whose friends will have left for middle school. But should students begin sixth grade--new school, new teachers, new classes--without knowing basic skills? Texas claims that the 80 percent of socially promoted fifth graders are given additional support. That's fine if true. But then why hold back any students at all? This is a tricky question. But Texas's current policy, which appears to be assembly-line promotion, isn't the answer.
"4 in 5 fifth-grade students who fail TAKS are promoted," by Terrence Stutz, Dallas Morning News, November 29, 2007