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Eight Graders Who Fail Will Be Held Back in the San Diego Schools

The San Diego schools is the largest school district in the state. Last year, almost 13 percent of its eighth graders failed two or more core subjects of English, mathematics, history and/or science. This does not include those who received Ds. They were all grades of F.

The San Diego schools is cracking down. Beginning with the current eight grade classes within the San Diego schools, these students will be subject to a new policy recently passed by the San Diego schools board with a vote of four-to-one. A new retention policy puts forth that any eight grader who fails (grade of F) two or more core subjects will be held back to repeat the eight grade. If the parents of such San Diego schools’ students object, then those children will be passed on to high school but must actively participate in a ninth grade intervention program.

There was much heated discussion about retention versus social promotion (passing San Diego schools’ students on to the next grade, when they are not prepared) before the vote was taken. The one dissenting vote was by San Diego schools’ board trustee Shelia Jackson, who argued that the causes for such failures should be addressed before punishing the students. She noted that the children did not fail on their own — teachers, parents and counselors participated, as well.

Some San Diego schools board trustees felt that the threat of retention would give the failing eighth graders incentive to work harder and get back on track. Jackson felt they were punishing the students for possible ineffective teachers or teaching methods.

All San Diego schools board trustees did agree that intervention programs for failing students should be implemented as early as elementary school to guarantee student success later in school and career.

The San Diego schools’ board trustees did not discuss what specific intervention programs would be provided to eighth graders who are held back or to those passed to the ninth grade at their parents’ request. The design of such programs will be left to each individual middle or high school, giving them the ability to tailor their programs to the needs of the students.

Retention is not a new method to assist failing students. It is widely used across the nation. Even the San Diego schools have used it in the past. Almost five percent of the San Diego schools’ sixth and seventh graders (more than 400 children) were retained in 2001 and almost three percent of first graders (360 children).

Superintendent Carl Cohn sides with Jackson, wondering if the new retention policy will hurt the San Diego schools’ students more than help them. He believes that retention only accelerates the drop out rate, and studies have proven Cohn correct — students held back are more likely to drop out of high school, than those promoted on to the next grade.

About the Author: Patricia Hawke is a staff writer for Schools K-12, providing free, in-depth reports on all U.S. public and private K-12 schools. Patricia has a nose for research and writes stimulating news and views on school issues. For more information on San Diego schools visit

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