Zero Out Of 44 Students Complete Freshman Year

Melissa Bailey PhotoA new experiment in ending social promotion ended the year with “shocking” results at High School in the Community: Not a single one of 44 first-time freshmen earned enough credits to move up to sophomore year.

The results came at the end of the first year of a “turnaround” experiment at High School in the Community (HSC), a historically teacher-run school that was formally taken over by the teachers union last year. Teachers, newly empowered to break from traditional practices, have begun to reinvent the high school experience by switching freshmen to a self-paced system where kids move up only when they’ve “mastered” specific skills. The goal is to make sure kids learn something instead of breezing through school with Ds.

When school officially ended on June 25, teachers determined that none of the 44 true “freshmen”—those in their first year of high school—had mastered enough material to move up a grade, according to HSC Facilitator (aka Principal) Erik Good. (Some kids who were repeating freshman year did earn enough credits to move up.)

Unlike at other schools, the 44 kids won’t have to repeat freshman year. They’ll get an opportunity to finish their work over a new, four-week summer school at HSC. Then, if they need more time, they can start off the year right where they left off instead of repeating entire classes.

Good said about 20 of the 44 appear to be within reach of finishing their work if they show up to summer school. The others will return in the fall as freshmen.

The risk of retention prompted 25 freshmen—and 34 upperclassmen, who have been experiencing the changes to a lesser degree—to sign up for a new four-week summer school at HSC to try to catch up, according to school officials. The group includes well-behaved, diligent students who had easily skated through middle school.

Aaliyah Staton (pictured at the top of this story) was one of 52 students who showed up to summer school on Wednesday, just one day after the official final day of school.

“I never needed summer school,” she said. “I don’t like” having to go.

Mom Nilda Paris, who has been very involved at school, said she was confused and “shocked” to learn that her daughter, Nikita Rodriguez, would need to take summer classes in order to advance to sophomore year.

“I’m not happy. I’m very frustrated,” she said. “It got me surprised that she has to go back to take summer classes and even though I was going to school like two times or three times a day” and meeting with teachers every two weeks “to talk about how Nikita was doing, and keep track of her.”

HSC’s experiment follows a national movement among educators to start promoting kids not on a rigid, uniform timeline based on seat time, but on a more flexible timeline based how much they’ve learned—ensuring they finish high school with a clear set of skills. HSC, which serves about 225 local and suburban kids on Water Street, is the first school in the state to fully embrace the new system, called “mastery-based learning”; its experiment has been closely watched, in part because it received $2.1 million from the state this year to be part of the new Commissioner’s Network of turnaround schools.

The number of freshmen (officially called “foundation-level students”) who make it to sophomore year is a key metric by which the school’s success—and the success of its principal—is being evaluated.

In April, Good had made a more optimistic prognostication: He predicted half of the freshmen may be held back. That would have been a big drop from the school’s previous pass rate, which ranged between 65 and 75 percent, according to Good. No one seemed to expect the eventual zero-percent pass rate.

“I’m not entirely surprised” at the number of freshmen being held back, he said, “but I did think we’d have a handful of kids who would have finished and moved on. And we didn’t.”

Melissa Bailey File PhotoGood (pictured) said he’s not sure yet what to conclude: “Maybe we set the standards too high. Maybe kids came to us too weak.”

In order to move up, kids had to get six credits, including one each in math, science, English and history. To get a credit, they had to score a 3 or 4 on a four-point scale on the school’s new report cards.

Good said he hadn’t had a chance yet to go through kids’ report cards and determine how far behind they are, and in which classes. “I want to see what this means,” he said.

2 of 60 Pass Science Class

Science teacher Kelly Baker, who taught four freshman physical chemistry classes, said only two of her students are set to move up to biology next year. Another 18 stand to finish the course over the summer. And a remaining 40 kids will likely return to the same class in the fall.

“The students didn’t really get it,” she said. “They’re all behind.”

Baker said students went through a change in mindset throughout the year.

At the beginning, they objected when she began to make them work independently.

“I like the old way of teaching,” they protested. The “old way” meant sitting in a chair and taking notes while the teacher delivered information, Baker said. She told her kids that if the “old way” worked, they would already understand the material she was presenting, which was supposed to be a review.

“You were taught it, but you didn’t learn it,” she recalled telling them. 

Baker, who has eight years’ experience teaching, said in a traditional high school, many of the kids would have passed her class with Ds. HSC raised the bar on what it means to pass a class—not just sitting in the chair and behaving well, but mastering the material.

In math class, teachers struggled with students who came to the school with math skills as low as the 2nd-grade level. Getting them to master 9th-grade material would take years’ worth of catching up.

Baker noted one benefit of HSC’s system: Unlike in traditional high schools, kids who didn’t pass a class won’t have to repeat the entire course again. They’ll just finish the units they haven’t mastered.

“They can just pick up where they left off,” she said.

The school has created new, half-year classes to accommodate kids’ individual paces. (Scheduling has been difficult, to say the least.)

“I’m Gonna Try”

Student responses have varied. Freshman Calvin Hernandez (pictured), who plans to attend summer school in upcoming weeks, took responsibility of his situation.

“I got behind because I didn’t do any work,” he confessed. He said he passed bike shop and social studies class, but still needs to catch up in other courses. In Algebra I, he got through four of six units, which means he could be within reach of completing the course.

His goal for the summer is to finish math and art class. He said he expects to be a freshman again in the fall, but just for the first quarter. After snagging his sixth credit, he said, he expects to move up.

Despite the extra summer hours (half-day sessions lasting four weeks), Calvin gave a positive review of the new way of doing high school. Calvin said he likes the system because if you work hard, “you can go ahead.”

Aaliyah said she didn’t like the new independent-pacing system at first, but she’s getting “used to it.”

She said she passed some classes, but didn’t make it through enough math or science to get a credit.

“I don’t really understand science,” she said.

Aaliyah said she plans to work over the summer to catch up, but she has a long way to go in phy-chem class. “I’m gonna try,” she said, but “I think I’m gonna be in Baker’s [class] next year.”

Aaliyah’s close friend, Serena Santiago (pictured), finds herself in a similar situation: Grudgingly agreeing to keep working through July.

“I never had to go to summer school,” she said. “I don’t want to.”

She said she made it through English and history class, but not math or science. She said working independently has been especially tough: “I need to be taught,” she said. “I can’t just be handed out stuff.”

Mom “Disappointed”

Melissa Bailey File PhotoParis (pictured with her daughter, Nikita) said she started the year with “high expectations” for HSC’s new way of teaching kids. She said she agreed with the fundamental premise that “you cannot keep passing these kids from year to year and grade by grade without them mastering” the material. She said she appreciates all that HSC staff has done to work with her daughter. After struggling with bullies in her younger years, Nikita is happy in high school.

But now Paris is skeptical about HSC’s approach to academics. She said during the year, she did all a parent could do: She talked with every one of her daughter’s teachers at least every other week. She checked Nikita’s homework. She read all the new descriptions on the new report cards. She sent her daughter to after-school help, according to the school’s recommendation. “I was after her, and I was after them all the time, asking how she was doing. I was the one who was asking for extra work.”

She said there were “a few times Nikita put aside what she was supposed to do” in school and “followed other kids.” But her daughter “recognized that” and got back on track.

She said teachers gave her the impression that “everything was OK. She was doing the job. She was doing the effort in order to accomplish that. All the time I was receiving these compliments. ... I was believing it. And now, oh my God! I was upset.”

“At the end of the year, I don’t want surprises,” Paris said. “It doesn’t make sense.”

Paris has devoted a lot of time this year escorting her daughter to school from their home in Bridgeport. First, they were spending hours on public buses; after she got a car, she began driving her daughter. Her dedication comes out of the belief that education is the pathway out of poverty.

“There’s a lot of things I have to sacrifice just for this,” she said. “Everything we do. Every single day. Five o’clock in the morning.”

Paris said she is “very upset” and “disappointed” that her daughter may be held back. Kids shouldn’t have to stay in high school for more than four years, she reasoned. “She’s going to be a grown woman and still in school. I’m not making all this sacrifice for that.”

Paris said she likes the idea behind the mastery-based system. But it doesn’t make sense to slam kids with a whole different way of learning once they hit 9th grade. “The system should start in 1st grade—not in high school,” she said. “It’s very shocking.”

If Nikita doesn’t catch up over the summer, she threatened, “I’m going to withdraw her from that school.”

Freshman Boot Camp

Good outlined several next steps for the school’s experiment-in-progress.

After summer school ends, and teachers get a final count of how many kids are moving up, teachers will work to “calibrate” the new system between classes, so that teachers have common expectations for what it means to pass a class. Those expectations were very much in flux over the year, as teachers rewrote curricula based on the Common Core State Standards, and worked by department to figure out just what it means to “master” each set of skills.

Next fall, teachers plan to corral new freshmen into a group of their own. Much like the “Freshman Academy” at James Hillhouse and Wilbur Cross, new, age-appropriate freshmen at HSC will have their own wing of the school. (Older kids who transfer to HSC after failing in traditional environments won’t be part of the group.) Four teachers will be responsible for teaching the freshmen English, math, science and history.

Teachers Sarah Marchesi and Matt Presser, who came up with the idea, pitched it to their colleagues at a recent staff meeting along with Baker and Wayne Austin, who are joining the effort. They argued that four teachers concentrating all their energy on freshmen would lead to better collaboration, interdisciplinary work, and shared expectations for kids. Kids will get a common, focused introduction to “mastery-based learning,” and a year-long freshman seminar teaching study skills.

After some reservations about ostracizing kids from the rest of the school, teachers voiced unanimous support for the proposal. Good said the year-long seminar would help the freshmen (called “foundation-year students”) be more successful than they were this year.

“One reason so many foundation kids failed this year was because they didn’t know what mastery was,” he said.

“In the beginning, there was no way we could accurately explain to kids what mastery was,” added Cameo Thorne, one of four teachers who run the school. She said the school needs to “explicitly teach habits of mind” for learning under the new system, which requires much more independence.

Good said HSC’s version of a freshman academy will help “stabilize” the transition from middle to high school. The new setup will eliminate the problem of having different teachers with different expectations for academics and behavior. And students will be less “distracted” by older peers and whatever else they might come across by moving classes through the rest of the building.

If it works, fewer kids will finish the year like Aaliyah, Nikita and their peers, disappointed about not moving up.

Good was asked about the risk of losing kids who are held back. One main reason kids transfer out of Achievement First charter schools is to avoid repeating a grade, according to school officials there.

“It’s possible that will be a consequence,” replied Good. But New Haven is set to expand mastery-based learning to five other high schools. Soon, kids won’t be able to leave HSC and skate through another high school with Ds.

“When everyone else is transitioning to mastery-based learning,” Good said, “there will be no place to hide.”

Previous Independent stories on High School in the Community:

• Solanlly’s Tale Sways UConn
“I Sat Down & I Grew Up”
Jury Sentences Jayla To Her Own Punishment
Teachers Clash With Union Prez Over Turnaround
91-39 Blowout Comes With A Lesson For Victors
New Haven Rallies For Solanlly & Chastity
Social Promotion Vow Put To The Test
HSC Heads To Capitol For New Diplomas
She Awoke To A New Life—& A New Mission
High School Of The Future Debuts, Briefly
Gay-Rights Teach-In Goes Off-Script
Nikita Makes It Home
15 Seniors Head To College Early
No More “B And A Smile”
Students Protest: “Give Us Homework!”
Meadow Street Clamps Down On Turnaround
School Votes For Hats; District Brass Balks
Students Invoke Free Speech In Great Hat Debate
Guv: End Social Promotion
History Class Hits The Streets
• “Misfit Josh” & Alex Get A 2nd Chance
Guess Who’s Assigning The Homework Now
On Day 1, HSC Students Enter A New World
Frank Reports Detail Experiment’s Ups & Downs
School Ditches Factory “Assembly Line”
State “Invites” HSC To Commissioner’s Network
Teachers Union Will Run New “Turnaround”

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posted by: markcbm on June 28, 2013  4:20pm

“Maybe we set the standards too high. Maybe kids came to us too weak.” 

And maybe the faculty are lacking.

I don’t reflexively blame teachers for student failures, but a 0% - 0%?! - promotion rate is astounding (appalling?). 

If only a few months ago faculty were predicting approximately half of freshman would go on to become sophomores, the excuses Mr. Good gives - overly high standards, under-prepared students - would have been obvious at that point, if not sooner.  The failure to recognize the extent to which their students were not apprehending the material at an appropriate rate should have set off alarm bells much earlier.

Meanwhile, the faculty - several of whom posted here, if I remember correctly - decried the NHPS insistence that union rep Dave Cicarella oversee school management.  They called him and the NHFT all sorts of names. 

Well, if HSC faculty can be trusted to educate at least one student so s/he can pass along from freshman to sophomore year in a timely fashion, it seems some oversight is called for.

posted by: Noteworthy on June 28, 2013  4:26pm

I only read down to the quote: “Maybe we set the standards too high…” I refuse to read another sentence. Yeah, that’s the problem.

posted by: Piq-NN on June 28, 2013  5:27pm

Mark, I reread the article you’re referring to ( and there’s 0 indication that it was the HSC faculty posting and criticizing Cicarella and the NHFT.  You’re misleading people and being dishonest.

posted by: NHFan on June 28, 2013  5:36pm

This article - from the very title - feels biased against HSC’s system. This school could have easily tried to save face and move these kids along, but they are continuing to hold students to high expectations and insist that they master material fully. That will benefit them far more in the long run than an extra four weeks of summer vacation.

There is no reason HSC should have gotten this 100% correct on their first try. I admire their willingness to evolve their new method. If you haven’t set foot inside of that school and felt what a close, positive environment it is, then I suppose I can understand the outrage. I have experienced it, however, and I fully believe they will get this right. Their students are dedicated, and they are capable, and this article does not capture that well enough.

I don’t work for HSC in any capacity, but I do work with several of their students - so keep it up, guys! You’ll figure it out, and your work is already having a positive impact on these kids.

posted by: Cari Strand on June 28, 2013  5:54pm

In the NHI article “What Does a High School Diploma Mean?” (3/28/13), Ms. Bailey reported,  “One startling study found that 89 percent of New Haven Public School graduates who enroll in Connecticut public colleges and universities needed to catch up in English and math before they can start earning credits.”

Let’s help New Haven students “catch up” now, before it costs them thousands of dollars in tuition. Let’s keep them from a disheartening start to their college education. Let’s send them to college ready for success. Clearly, four years has not been enough for most New Haven students. If it takes a little longer to prepare our young people for success, isn’t it worth it?

posted by: markcbm on June 28, 2013  6:39pm


Apologies if I did not attribute some of the comments from the article on union oversight of HSC properly.  They may have been teachers from other schools criticizing the idea that HSC needed oversight.  Not trying to be dishonest.

But lets be honest, the teacher’s apparent surprise regarding student outcomes is worrisome.  I mean, it is the educator’s job to assess student abilities and evaluate progress during the course. 

There’s something wrong when you’ve got a highly involved parent saying things like:

““It got me surprised that she has to go back to take summer classes and even though I was going to school like two times or three times a day” and meeting with teachers every two weeks “to talk about how Nikita was doing, and keep track of her.””

To not have one student become a sophomore after a year at that school should be considered an indignation, unless you honestly think that none - ZERO - of those kids had a reasonable chance at achieving mastery of the material.

posted by: kenneth_krayeske on June 28, 2013  7:50pm

Bike Shop - this school sounds like it is on to something. Bike Shop! I love it. Teaching kids bicycle repair skills in school. HSC gets an “A” for that!

posted by: Thomas Alfred Paine on June 28, 2013  9:15pm

Something appears quite rotten in the state of High School in the Community. The parents and the community should be appalled at the fact that no freshmen students from this school will be promoted to the next grade. The phone calls and protests from parents should shake the very foundations of 54 Meadow Street. Some parents claim that they were not contacted by school officials or teachers about the failure of freshmen to master their subjects to be eligible to be promoted to the next grade until this June. What really disturbed me is that these students will be able to take four weeks of summer school courses to earn credits equivalent to a whole school year. That’s amazing. That’s remarkable. That’s incredible. That’s the New haven public school system.
Why don’t we just save the New Haven taxpayers a ton of money and have a four week school year!?!

posted by: swatty on June 28, 2013  11:11pm

Edison did not invent anything in 1 try! I commend HSC for it’s high standards. Give these teachers free rein for 5 years. I bet we’ll see incredible results.

Congratulations students! You should feel proud that your teachers care enough to give it to you straight. You all can quit. Quitting is easy! It’s living down the road that gets hard when you throw in the towel.

posted by: Christopher Schaefer on June 29, 2013  6:49am

HSC Facilitator (aka Principal) Erik Good: “I did think we’d have a handful of kids who would have finished and moved on. And we didn’t.” “it received $2.1 million from the state this year to be part of the new Commissioner’s Network of turnaround schools.” Obvious problem: we need even higher taxes so we can give the schools lots more money. “In math class, teachers struggled with students who came to the school with math skills as low as the 2nd-grade level.” So why were they allowed to pass 3rd grade? “kids who didn’t pass a class won’t have to repeat the entire course again. They’ll just finish the units they haven’t mastered.” Why isn’t this being done in much earlier grades?  Student Paris:  “The system should start in 1st grade—not in high school”. Student Aaliyah: “I don’t really understand science”. So why is every high school following a college-prep curriculum?

posted by: urban ed on June 29, 2013  10:49am

It’s cheaper now. An education is not time spent, but skills mastered. Stick to your standards, HSC!

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on June 29, 2013  1:39pm

The way in which we measure success in our society today is often counter to real human progress and substantive growth.  HSC is doing the right thing by these kids, their families, and the community. I, for one, greatly applaud them. 

I applaud them not in spite of these reported results, but because they had the courage to stick with their worthy endeavor to educate thoroughly their students. 

With this system, as these students move from High School to College, they will be well prepared to engage the work at that level with confidence and competence.  Success here should be measured by how well the HSC graduates understand what their teachers attempt to teach them, not by whether or not they can garner a simplistically delightful headline.

posted by: Brutus2011 on June 29, 2013  11:36pm

Right On, HSC!
I concur.

posted by: Tom Burns on June 29, 2013  11:47pm

Beautiful—I am so proud of this school community—starting with the students who stay and take the challenge—(it isn’t that you didn’t pass—anyone could do that—it’s that you have a bit of a way to go to master something)Remember-“If it is to be, it is up to me”—This challenge is what “Champions” are made of—and those of you who stay the course are the real deal—Tom

posted by: IvyFollower on June 30, 2013  11:59am

Perhaps the notion of “self-paced” education is a bit much for 14-year-old students who have not been self-motivated. When you try something so predictably flawed and go 0-for-44, it is time to let better people take the reins.

Mr. Bow-tie laying blame on everyone but himself and his staff is offensive. The teacher saying the kids “don’t really get it,” when it is her job to make them “get it” sounds utterly ridiculous.

This school and its staff are bringing harm to the students and it is time to make them accountable, preferably by making them find a new profession.

posted by: Brutus2011 on June 30, 2013  3:09pm

to “Ivyfollower:”

All education is essentially “self-paced.”

Motivation is the key to the learning of a human being—and intrinsic is better than extrinsic but both are better than none.

The real truth is that you can’t blame a teacher, or teachers, or principals or even jive-a** superintendents and mayors for poor student outcomes.

HSC is our best shot yet at turning this mess around.

posted by: IvyFollower on June 30, 2013  3:59pm

Brutus. Fine then. Let’s get rid of the teachers and save the $1 million in salaries that HSC blows every year on them. Your rationale seems like they aren’t needed.

posted by: Christopher Schaefer on June 30, 2013  4:21pm

Brutus2011 says “HSC is our best shot yet at turning this mess around.” Only if they follow the advice of student Paris:  “The system should start in 1st grade—not in high school”.

posted by: mechanic on June 30, 2013  6:40pm

Thomas Alfred, I usually really appreciate your comments, but I think you missed the gist of HSC’s summer school program.  This won’t be like the NHPS summer school, in which students supposedly cover the year’s material.  The program will be highly individualized so that students can really get the material they didn’t “master” during the school year.  It’s possible that they missed by a unit or two, and they can focus on the specific concepts and standards that kept them from mastery during the school year.

I’m not saying it will work (I hope so!), but it’s definitely not the summer school everyone else is attending in New Haven.

posted by: Piq-NN on June 30, 2013  8:02pm

If only 23% of (2006) NHPS graduates finished college in 6 years (as the NHI reported), then students are being moved on before they’re ready.  HSC is just the school that’s being honest with them.  Don’t shoot the messenger!

posted by: Wildwest on June 30, 2013  9:25pm

All public schools should be equal period(a whole ‘nother story) because the day will come when so called “strait A” students from New Haven will go to a place called “college” where they don’t just pass students along for statistical reasons and more state & federal money.

Nice job HSC.

posted by: IvyFollower on June 30, 2013  10:44pm

It is rather mind-numbing that a school can fail to advance a single student and get praise for doing it. I suspect that these posts come primarily from the staff and friends of this failed endeavor, trying to spin away their horrid track record. Anything else would be ridiculous.

Teachers are paid to teach. If they cannot engage the students and deliver the lessons, they are the failures.

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on July 1, 2013  12:18am

What might be “ridiculous”, IvyFollower, is your referring to a one year result as a “track record”.

posted by: Curious on July 1, 2013  7:38am

@ IvyFollower, I felt the same way at first.

However, stopping social promotion is a good can’t dump kids out in the real world without any skills.

That some of these kids come into HSC with SECOND GRADE math skills is a crime.  Someone seriously should go to jail for that (cough Mayo cough).

How do you teach a kid with that level of math to do high school math?

This is the level they are coming in with:

“Nearing their seventh year, many children will be able to count out loud by fives to 100. Some will be able to count by twos to 20. And a few will be able to count by threes up to 18 and fours to 24.

Throughout their seventh year, children will continue reading number words (“one,” “two,” “first,” “second,” etc.). They will also be able to read and understand mathematical terms such as equal, unequal, greater than, and less than, and match them to their symbols.”

You can’t move a high school kid like that on.  Not with a clear conscience, anyway.

Think of it another way - these teachers are like house builders, but instead of having finished boards and straight nails dropped off to build with, they’re being sent rough-hewn logs and lumps of iron.

posted by: IvyFollower on July 1, 2013  8:34am

No where have I mentioned that I am in favor of social promotion. Instead, I am in favor of teachers who can actually engage and teach students.

I would love, just once, to hear educators take some responsibility instead of simply blaming parents, blaming the government, blaming administrators, blaming anyone, for their failures. And zero-for-44 is a massive failure.

And Samuel T. Ross-Lee, are you suggesting that HSC’s track record prior to this year has been something to brag about?

posted by: LadyERT on July 1, 2013  8:53am

Everyone can sit here and point fingers for days, but the bottom line should be the kids and the fact that something is just not right when not ONE student was able to progress to the next grade. While I understand testing a new theory, lets never put aside the fact that these are our children and their futures that are being “experimented with!

posted by: Curious on July 1, 2013  9:31am

@ IvyFolllower,

Please find me a teacher who can take a kid who can barely count to 100 by fives and teach that kid how to do algebra.

That’s not a possible task.  It’s like asking a seven year old to compete on the high school football or wrestling team.

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on July 1, 2013  9:44am

Frankly, IvyFollower, I don’t know about HSC’s “track record” beyond this particular experiment.  But what i do know is that one cannot judge a “track record” based on one-year’s effort.  And this article is about what has occurred over this ONE year.  No “track record” here yet with this.


You’re absolutely correct; “something” is not right when no students can pass on to the next level of learning based on their inability to master the present level.  But, the intelligent thing to do is to determine exactly what that “something” is, instead of reflexively blaming either the teachers, the students, or even “the system”.

Perhaps there is a combination of things, more of one thing, less of the other, a little bit of yet another.  Unless we are patient enough to do the work, study the results, and come to some well-reasoned conclusions, we will always be in experimentation mode and never progressing with sensible results upon which to base further teaching and education of these precious minds.

The great thing about this particular experimentation, however, is that while the experiment is being preformed, students are getting the best education they can get to help them move forward in their actually knowledge (or mastery) of the skills taught.  I, for one, am confident that when the experiment is complete with these kids, at least two goals will have been met. 1. The present students will move forward only after they have learned what they need to know to do well at the next level of their education - including the college level. 2. Future students will benefit from what the teachers and administrators at HSC learn as the continue to study and tweak their system.

posted by: Ephy on July 1, 2013  9:53am

It is important that we focus discussion on urban education as our schools are graduating kids ill-prepared for the challenge of college success, career readiness and adulthood in general.  Most importantly, urban students are marginalized from the rewarding experience of learning.  As a parent, I would be very concerned by the state of affairs of urban education.  It is important, however, that energy be focused in the right direction.  Although convenient to use teachers as scapegoats, doing so displays a very surface level analysis of a deep-rooted problem.  The issue at HSC is not that students did not pass onto their sophomore year, rather that they entered the 9th grade with first, second and third grade reading levels.  Students came to school unable to write a paragraph, apathetic about learning and disengaged from the schooling experience.  HSC teachers did not fail their students.  The learning gap of urban students is one piece of a societal problem that can manifest as school failure.  I applaud the courage that it takes as a teacher to reassess, realign and attempt day in and day out to reach these students.  As a first-year member of the HSC staff, and a 9th grade teacher of History, I am in awe of the effort invested in the students at HSC by my colleagues.  Let’s not be quick to blame without taking a moment to dissect an issue that has plagued urban and rural schools alike historically.  HSC is attempting to be a part of the solution.

posted by: Brutus2011 on July 1, 2013  10:43am

Look, 9th graders who graduate from NHPS elementary and middle schools are being promoted without the necessary skills to succeed in high school.

HSC and its staff are trying to correct this circumstance.

Anyone who sees this effort as an indictment of poor teaching etc is only displaying ignorance of education and how you are being played by those who run the system at the top.

Wake up and volunteer to help our kids and their teachers, please.

posted by: Dsmitsu02 on July 1, 2013  11:24am

Sam, Brutus, and Ephy,

I couldn’t have said it any better!

posted by: markcbm on July 1, 2013  12:08pm

The responses here defending HSC are really surprising.  No one is arguing for social promotion.  If the excuses the HSC defenders offer were so overwhelming, then the 0% promotion rate should not have caught the staff of guard.  Why did it?

Another surprise: the logic connecting college-readiness to the HSC freshman promotion rate.  But lets try: If you want to compare a 23% college graduation rate to the freshman promotion rate, then why didn’t 23% of HSC freshman become sophomores? 

If 23% (or whatever number) were able to demonstrate adequate proficiency, then the HSC staff could at least have some evidence that they were able to teach someone effectively.  But when NOT EVEN ONE student can do that, the staff has zero evidence that they did their jobs adequately.  What evidence do you offer that the staff did their jobs adequately? 

On HSC’s ‘track record’: not too long ago the school was graduating students who went on to Stanford, UPenn, Yale, etc.  Guess HSC is way off their track record (I recognize a lot has changed at the school and they are trying new methods, but I wanted to address the longer term track record). 

What’s reprehensible here is that in the article above it appears that teachers did not even raise the possibility that they were at least partly responsible for the 0% promotion rate.  No one’s perfect, and recognizing this enables professionals to develop.  Furthermore, if the staff were doing their jobs properly, parents would have been aware that this outcome was on the horizon.  Most importantly, remediation could have begun sooner.

To me, the larger issue isn’t about the teachers per se - I’m sure they tried hard, and I commend them for their honesty.  To me it seems like this is an example of the need for a dedicated school administrator, i.e. someone who is trained to run a school overseeing the school rather than a “head teacher”.  I don’t see how anyone who argued against this before still has a leg to stand on.

posted by: Ephy on July 1, 2013  1:03pm


Silence condones behavior.  The community should be shocked when a child is promoted year after year and reaches the 9th grade lacking basic math skills, boggled by a history textbook and unable to write simple one paragraph summaries. The lack of any prior response to this supports social promotion and perpetuates a system that is a disservice to our kids! 

The fact that HSC brings to light that these students lack grade-level skills is not evidence that no progress was made this year.  I have countless stories of celebrations within my classroom, stories of students making progress, progress backed by data.  This does not mean, however, that these students have skills typical of a 10th grader. 

HSC should not be an emotional dumping ground because they have exposed these student deficiencies.  The tremendous amount of work invested by HSC teachers this year is our effort to make a difference in each student’s educational experience.  What is yours?

posted by: Babz Rawls Ivy on July 1, 2013  1:21pm

I think the real education will be for parents and others who need to grasp this concept… that social promotion does nothing to help children.  If we are serious about education, then a few weeks in Summer school should not even matter.  The goal has to be a solid education BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY!

The question ought to be how can we as parents and community help?  What do we need to do to support teachers?  What do we need to do to support students?  I think the first thing to do is to redirect our minds and hearts away from social promotion and think directly about curriculum and ensuring that children are mastering subjects.  This isn’t news…. the parochial system is very successful at doing this, as is other private schools. Public schools are coming into this thinking very slowly… this is why charter schools have captured the interest of parents desperate for a different way…a more aggressive, yet holistic way of ensuring their kids are wholly educated.

I applaud HSC for this kind of transparency and integrity. I hope there is a great deal of support for their continued success.  And it is a success to actively address what is clearly a real problem.

posted by: LadyERT on July 1, 2013  3:25pm

Maybe I am confused about what social promotion actually is or maybe I am old fashioned, but when I went to school, we studied certain subjects and were tested regularly on what we learned and retained. If we did not pass the knowledge tests, we did not pass the class. Is there something different being done these days? I have two teenagers in high school right now and that is the way they’ve been promoted all these years and by the way, one of my girls failed a subject, did summer school and learned what she hadn’t during the school yer and went on to the next level.

posted by: IvyFollower on July 1, 2013  3:33pm

It defies any credibility to have EVERY student fail and yet somehow praise the instructors. Doing this does not mean that you somehow understand education better than the rest of us, it simply means you are an apologist for the failures of adults.

posted by: Curious on July 1, 2013  4:00pm

@ LadyERT, it was the same for me growing up.  Social promotion though is a policy of passing kids to the next grade even if they failed the grade they are in…so instead of doing summer school or repeating the grade they failed, the kids are passed through, so they won’t feel the social awkwardness of being separated from their peers.

@ IvyFollower, if you consider that these kids are coming into classes completely unprepared for the material, I find it completely credible to keep them back.  I find it not credible that you think kids with second-grade-math-skills-in-high-school can be taught six years of skills in one year.

posted by: LadyERT on July 2, 2013  8:39am

@Curious, thank you. I thought that was the meaning of social promotion, however, I have never heard of it being done before. Granted, I am not from Ct, I am from SC, but even there if a child cannot pass the class, there is no moving on to the next. I will not sit and blame anyone on this subject, I just want everyone from both sides to remember that these are our children we speak of. I would much rather have a socially traumatized teenager than an illiterate adult any day.

posted by: A.D. on July 2, 2013  11:08am

It’s unclear at what level a ‘3’ or ‘4’ corresponds to — but if it corresponds to, say, a B-, then it is not that surprising that 0 students passed all of their classes with a ‘3’ or above.

Some of the comments are incredulous, but it’s not just that they are ending social promotion at HSC (any school that holds back students with F’s could be said to not be using social promotion), but that HSC has significantly raised the bar — from a passing grade to a level of competence that presumably would allow them to pass state and national exams in the various subjects.

posted by: accountability on July 2, 2013  11:33am

so-called “reformers” have complained for years that teachers’ unions are responsible for social promotion and for a general go along to get along incompetence.

Well, not at HSC.

Congrats to the NHFT for breaking the silence and raising the bar at the same time. Missing from a lot of the comments here is recognition of the fact that HSC’s program combines a nurturing, rational approach to student progress with very high standards. Students are not made to “repeat” classes and grades as punishment for failure. They are pushed to move along toward benchmarks from where they’re at, and continue their progress from that point.

They could have lied and given some kids a pass. They didn’t. I’m very curious to see how this experiment plays out over time, which, by the way, is the only way to judge educational programs.

This is a hell of a lot more exciting than most of the punitive “reforms” pushed by billionaires around the country.

I don’t always agree w/Pastor Ross-Lee, but I sure do here.

posted by: Chris Kafoglis on July 2, 2013  1:46pm

@IvyFollower: I certainly understand why you feel that “EVERY student fail[ed],” but that is simply not the case. A student who mastered and completed every course except one core class (English, Math, Social Studies or Science) must also master that course before being promoted. Is that a high bar? Sure, but it is a reasonable standard and one that our students can achieve if we give them the time and support they need to be successful. If you ask our students (and we have), they will tell you that they are working harder and learning more than they have in the past. This is not about failure, it is about ensuring that students learn.