Ending social promotion is a good idea, but merely forcing students to repeat grades--same stuff, same classrooms, often same teachers--has been shown to be an inadequate alternative. Which is why Jefferson Parish, Louisiana deserves kudos for devising a promising "third way": grade 4.5, the destination for fourth-graders who fail to pass the state's LEAP test. This intermediate level will serve as a "transitional class" that "combines intense remedial math and language arts with regular fifth-grade courses" to give students a chance to catch up to their peers. Wisely, not all of the 22 percent of the system's 3,100 fourth graders who failed to pass their LEAPs are eligible. Admission requires contract-style parental support for the "intense effort and focus" required to pass 4.5--and a minimum score of "approaching basic" in math and English. Regrettably, details are scant on how the new grade will work and some may argue that Jefferson's approach is nothing new--after all, it's basically a return to grouping students by current ability, a sensible policy that unfortunately went out of fashion in the 1990s. But if it results in six-graders who are ready to do sixth-grade work, that will be something we can all LEAP about.

"Program to help students catch up," by Barri Bronston, New Orleans Times-Picayune, October 18, 2008

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