D.C. School Superintendent Floretta D. McKenzie and some school board members want to end the school system's unique and controversial midyear promotion policy for elementary school students because "it has not worked effectively."

Under the student progress plan, elementary school students are held back at the midyear point if they have not mastered essential reading and math skills. It was strongly supported by former school superintendent Vincent E. Reed when it went into effect in the fall of 1980 as part of the school system's competency-based curriculum as a means of determining which students had deficiencies and to help them master basic skills.

The program to find the school system's slowest learners resulted in the failure of half the 21,622 students in the first through third grades at the midyear point of the 1980-81 school year.

More than 70 percent of first through sixth grade students were promoted in the second year of the program, but that was partially because the school system decided to give several "transitional" promotions to students who had mastered either reading or math skills, but not both.

This year students continued to improve as 84 percent were passed at the midyear point. But McKenzie, associate superintendent for instruction James Guines and some board members are convinced that the midyear promotion policy takes up too much of teachers' time, has psychologically disillusioned students who were retained through the program and suffers from a lack of resources for the school system to effectively operate it.

Based on a recommendation of the school board's educational programs committee, chaired by board member Linda W. Cropp (Ward 4), the school board last night considered a proposal to resume annual promotions for the 1983-84 school year. But several board members voiced concern that the question needed further study. A motion by board president David Eaton (At-large) to send the proposal back to committee carried in a 5-to-4 vote.

"I want to make sure we don't give the wrong signals with this," said board member Eugene Kinlow (At-large).

"I feel very strongly about this consideration; it has not worked effectively," said McKenzie, who assured the board that the same stringent assessment of a student's strengths and weaknesses would occur at the midyear point without the promotion policy.

"We would not lower standards," McKenzie continued. "With annual promotions tied to achievement, this will still be one of the most rigorous policies of any school system."

A report by McKenzie to the board cited recommendations of the University of the District of Columbia and the National Institute of Education in support of a return to annual promotions.

Board member Bettie Benjamin said that "when we embarked on the student progress plan we did think it was a good idea. I would think we would concentrate on improving management of the student progress plan."

Cropp, who supported the call for annual promotions and protested sending the question back to committee, said that "we have been assured that report cards would still reflect students' strengths and weaknesses; students will still go through the same assessments."