The Prince George's County Board of Education began considering yesterday new guidelines for promoting students that would give administrators more flexibility in deciding when a student should be held back because of poor performance.
Last year, 7,490 students were denied promotion to the next grade; that is 6.7 percent of total enrollment, compared with 5.8 percent five years before.
In describing the guidelines proposed by a staff task force, Louise Waynant, coordinating director of instruction for the county schools, said: "It is correct to say that we're shying away from just holding kids back. It is incorrect to say that we are not advocating retention when it is needed--there are very specific times when it is appropriate."
Under the present promotion policy for grades seven through nine, for example, students must pass English, mathematics and science and a majority of all the subjects they are studying in order to be advanced in grade.
Under the proposed guidelines, the decision to retain a student in grades seven and eight would be based on a combination of factors, including reading level scores, study skill development and emotional maturity. Similar changes would be made for grades 9 through 12; elementary school retention policies would remain largely as they are now.
Prince George's retention figures for grades 7 and 10--the first years in junior high and high school--far exceed the overall 6.7 percent average. The hold-back rates of 10.1 and 18.9 percent, respectively, are consistent with national statistics that show students are more likely to have problems in those years than in others.
"A student has many more teachers with whom they are interacting," said Waynant in explanation. "The youngster has a different set of expectations put on him," she added.
Monica Ulhorn, administrative assistant for instructional services, said students often receive less individual assistance "and not enough diagnosis" from teachers in those transitional grades. The existing school grading policy requires teachers to give all students progress reports that would warn those heading for failure.
At yesterday's board work session, school officials said that the progress reports are not always issued and that many schools do not have the funds to mail them home when they are done.
"How do you know that there is a child who should be getting a progress report and did not?" board member Sarah Johnson inquired of staff members. Superintendent Edward J. Feeney said he was looking into the progress report procedures and will explore the idea of mailing them to parents.
"We don't have a set budget to mail them out," said Johnson. "My concern is that the child actually gets the report," she added.
Board member Bonnie Johns, chairman of the session, called the new guidelines "a step in the right direction."