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Chicago's proven results.

Regarding your two stories about Chicago's ending of social promotion ("Retaining Retention" and "Teachers and Students Speak," Features, Winter 2005), it should be noted that one of the most important policy decisions that Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley made when he took control of the public schools in 1995 was to end social promotions.

Before then, the high school dropout rate was almost 16 percent; the percentage of our elementary students meeting national norms on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills in reading was less than 37; the percentage of our students testing in the bottom quarter was about 32. But things have changed. By 2003 the dropout rate had fallen to 13 percent, the percentage of students meeting national norms was up to 41, and the percentage of students testing in the bottom quartile was down to about 24--better than the nation as a whole. This is all to say that we see retention as a tool to help students get the help they need. And it works.

Your articles note many of these facts, but it must be pointed out that the key to making retention effective is to recognize it as a warning sign and fix the problem. This year, we have refined our policy to require that a personalized learning plan be designed for each student retained, so that the principal, teacher, and parents can all monitor the child's progress.

These students also work with specially trained teachers. And previously retained 4th and 7th graders now have access to extra learning opportunities after school and during the summer to make sure they stay on track.

We also are working to prevent retentions before they even occur, by targeting high-retention schools and implementing an intensive literacy program in the early grades. We already have more than 30,000 preschool slots systemwide and have expanded this program into full-day kindergarten in targeted schools.

We look forward to a day when no children are retained, not because they are simply passed along without scrutiny, but because they have mastered the skills and concepts needed for their grade level. On that day, we will know that we truly have served every child in every school.


Chief Executive Officer

Chicago Public Schools
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Title Annotation:correspondence
Author:Duncan, Arne
Publication:Education Next
Article Type:Letter to the Editor
Date:Mar 22, 2005
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