The D.C. public schools' current standards for promoting students require the youngsters to learn too much in too short a time without providing them with adequate remedial help, a study by the National Institute of Education has found.
The NIE, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education, recommends that the school system return to promoting students on an annual basis, instead of the current system in which they are evaluated for promotion to the next grade level at both the mid-year point in January and at the end of the year in June.
However, the report, which school officials released yesterday, does not recommend eliminating the current promotions standards. The basic thrust of the standards, called the Student Progress Plan (SPP), is to require students to master a specific number of skills in reading and math before they can move on.
The NIE report is significant because Superintendent Floretta D. McKenzie has said she will base any changes in the current plan on the report's findings.
McKenzie has said in the past that she thought the current promotions program is perhaps too vigorous for a school system where the achievement of most students is below grade level, as measured by standardized tests.
McKenzie is traveling in England this week and could not be reached for comment. Associate Superintendent James T. Guines said that McKenzie "will not make any changes without full consultation with the Board of Education."
The board approved the current plan in 1980 as a way of eliminating "social promotions," the practice of promoting students according to their age rather than achievement.
Guines said that McKenzie, in contrast to her predecessor, Vincent E. Reed, considers the mid-year promotion an evaluation point for teachers to determine who is falling behind and who needs remedial help, and that the June promotion is the significant one. The stiffer promotion requirments began during the Reed administration.
The plan has been a source of debate among parents, teachers and school administrators because of the numbers of students who fail each semester to meet the required standards. Last January, about 30 percent of all students in fifth and sixth grades failed to meet the standards in reading and math.
While the NIE report supports having specific promotion standards, it maintains that students are currently expected to master too many skills in reading and that remedial help for slower students is inadequate.
The report also says the school system is not adequately addressing the needs of the gifted student who easily masters the required skills and could learn even more.
The NIE researchers recommend exempting grades five and six from the promotion standards, saying it is not fair to hold students in those grades responsible for work they may not have learned in the earlier grades before SPP was instituted. The school system runs the risk of a lawsuit, the report says, if it holds students accountable for work they may not have been taught.
Guines said there are no plans to scrap the promotion results for this year's fifth- and sixth-graders.
The report also raises questions about the method used to evaluate students. Verification of whether a student has mastered the required skills is left solely to the teachers, who are to be guided by sample tests provided by the school system.
A crucial element of the promotions plan calls for parents to take a greater role in teaching their children at home. But the report found that the school system failed adequately to explain the plan to parents and that the new five- and six-page report cards, full of educational terminology, are basically incomprehensible to parents.
Guines said the school system is already addressing some of the concerns the report raised. He said report cards are being revised for next semester and that the school system plans to send home additional teaching materials--such as comic books containing spelling and reading lessons--that parents can use with their children.
Guines said the students will receive more individualized instruction and remedial help in the upcoming school year because the 1983 budget provides funds to lower the pupil-teacher ratio from 28-1 to 25-1 and to hire several teachers' aides.
He said the school system also plans to purchase several new computers with which students can work on reading and math lessons.
The number of required reading skills, he said, "will not be reduced as much as recommended." Guines also said the school system will continue to depend on teacher judgement to determine which students are ready for promotion and on a variety of tests, instead of using the results of a single standardized test to measure student achievement.