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PROMOTIONS IN ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS
BROTHER GEORGE SAUER, S. M.
On the subject of promotions there is not an abundance of literature. Most pedagogical works give it scant notice. A paragraph or two will hold all that the average writer on class management has to say on this important topic. For important it certainly is, since to a great extent the welfare of both school and pupils depends on how well the promotions are made. Yet it may be that not too much need be said on promotions. As a rule. they come but seldom and at fixed intervals, and, do what we may, we shall hardly succeed in accurately systematizing them. Even if we did, so much depends on time and place, on conditions and circumstances, that with all our endeavors we shall scarcely be able to carry out fully any well-digested plan. 2. Grading.
Promotions presuppose that schools are graded-in fact we promote in order to preserve our grading intact. Therefore, to be clear in the matter of promotions, it were well to understand the basis of our grading.
We may grade on a threefold classification of branches: a. Reading and recitations.
c. Mechanical subjects, such as writing, drawing.
Again, there might be a twofold classification:
a. Literary subjects.
b. Mathematical subjects.
Finally, to simplify still more, we may consider a single classification:
Reading, recitations, arithmetic.
Very few teachers will give much thought to writing and drawing when grading, hence the threefold classification is not regarded favorably.
Demanding a fair knowledge of both literary and mathematical subjects in the twofold classification will often raise difficulties of its own. Much as one child's mind may differ from that of another, it is in itself a world of inconsistencies. Strength and weakness, intelligence and dullness, are not seldom strangely mingled, so that the pupil bright in literary matters may be very poor in mathematics, and inversely the "lightning calculator" may be a wretched speller. What scale shall we adopt in appreciating the two series of branches? How much ability on one side will compensate for a serious weakness on the other? Evidently a very thorough and detailed study of each pupil's standing.on such a basis would be impracticable in any large class.
We are, therefore, in a general way compelled to fall back on a single classification and take for granted that, for the same program, average ability in reading, recitations and arithmetic, or more than ordinary strength in one or two of these matters may equally entitle a pupil to enter a certain grade. It should be borne in mind though that present mental acquirements are not the only criterion to direct us in classifying pupils. Age, quickness of perception, docility, ambition, strict attention to work, frequently compensate for intellectual deficiencies, and it is necessary to take these factors into consideration if the grading of the school is to be effectively done.
Supposing that the grading of the school has been well done. and that all the pupils applied themselves with fair success during the term, there would obviously be no difficulty in making promotions. Each grade would be advanced in a body, and there would be a change only in programs and books. Unfortunately such is not the case, for in almost every class there will be found pupils who, because of either physical or mental weakness, lack of application, want of ambition, or other causes, have failed to reach the standard set for promotion. To promote all indiscriminately would not be beneficial; the more advanced pupils would be hampered in their further efforts, whilst the weak or
indolent would not improve. The only remedy seems to be a readjusting of the whole school on the lines of present attainments; in other words, there must be promotions according to some accepted system.
4. Time for promotions.
When shall promotions occur? Individual promotions would be most logical, to occur at any time when a pupil has mastered the program. Such an arrangement would spur on to action and make each pupil himself responsible for the length of his stay in any grade. For various reasons, however, individual promotions are undesirable, often impossible. There would be a constant and irregular changing of teachers and classes, and no amount of benefit to particular pupils would compensate for the loss of unity and system in the school at large. There remains, therefore, the usual method of class promotions, and the only question is one of choice between yearly and half-yearly promotions.
Concerning yearly promotions not much need be said, as that practice has grown venerable with age. Its good and bad features are generally conceded. Let us see what the newer style of half-yearly promotions has to offer and what its possible drawbacks may be.
a. A full year is a very long period in the young child's life. What is to happen at its close arouses little interest at its beginning. Therefore the prospect of a promotion one year hence as an incentive to persistent effort will not appeal strongly to the childish mind. Reducing the time of promotion to a half year permits the child to realize more readily and forcibly that earnest efforts must be made, and that immediately, too, as the period of probation is short.
b. Half-yearly promotions give double opportunity for reclassifying. Thus classes can be made more equal throughout and in consequence do more and better work. Pupils who are too bright for their present class can be put into a grade where they by right belong, and such as are too feeble will have chance at promotion after another half year. Thus to one and to the other the semi-annual promotion will be a benefit.
c. Towards the middle of the year some, maybe many of the pupils of the higher grades, leave school to secure employment
On the contrary, younger
and thus these classes are thinned out. children are accepted, and the lower grades are overcrowded. The half-yearly promotions would restore normal conditions.
A serious objection, perhaps, to the scheme of semi-annual promotions is that the highest class of the school will thus be obliged to graduate pupils twice each year. This is running counter to the long established practice of graduating with great eclat only towards the end of June. What difference does it make at any rate to the graduates? And if the new style did away with the immense amount of unnecessary labor involved in the preparation of the grand and showy, but entirely useless, "Commencement Exercises," it were a consummation devoutly to be wished for.
5. Who should be promoted?
a. All who have done well, i. e., who give satisfactory evidence that they have mastered the program gone through. Some will naturally excel in one study more than in others; there may even be those who are weak in one or the other branch. Too much fine discrimination is not needed, for we may never hope to bring the pupils' intelligences to a dead level.
b. Again there are pupils too old for their grades. Much consideration should be shown such children, and they ought to be promoted if it is at all possible. Usually they will be found fairly capable in at least one or the other branch. If advanced, they are encouraged to fresh endeavors, whereas if not promoted they settle down to a monotonous state of inaction or quit school. For such over-aged children the requirements for promotion should be made as light as possible. As a rule no pupil otherwise healthy and sound of mind should be kept in the same grade more than two periods. Let it. be remembered that promotions must always be subservient to the pupils' welfare and not vice versa; and if the system cannot be operated with mathematical precision, count it no loss provided the pupils' interests have been safeguarded.
6. Standards for promotion.
How shall we determine fitness for promotion? There are different ways.
It was long customary to make promotions depend entirely on success in the examinations conducted at the end of the term. There is much to object to in such a method. (1) It is manifestly unjust in that it ignores the ordinary work of the whole year. Many a pupil who has done well in his daily tasks is liable. to fail in an examination. On the contrary, there are those who, having been careless or indolent the greater part of the year, may by a great effort towards its close make quite a fair showing in the examination. (2) All examinations, if at all serious, are preceded by special preparation. The more important the examination the longer the preparation. Hence much time is possibly wasted in useless drills which have no educative value. And if certain branches, such as spelling and arithmetic, expose more than others to failure, then of course more time must be devoted to them to the exclusion of other studies of the program. The examination thus becomes the end of the labors of both teacher and pupils, and education in the real sense of the term is but a side issue. (3) Many children are physically unable to stand the strain imposed by such an examination on which solely depends their chance for promotion. Nervous and weak pupils are often harmed by a test which to them is a real torture, owing to anxiety and uncertitude. (4) After all, what can be tested in an examination? Only learning, book knowledge, and often little of that. The main faculty called into play is memory. Surely our schools should do more for the children than cram their heads with facts. Are piety, kindness, honesty, good manners, diligence to count for nothing? Will they not determine the child's future more than mere knowledge? Why, then, should they be ignored?
b. A series of examinations.
Much preferable to a single final examination is a series of examinations, say one each quarter. Thus the pupil's chance for promotion is not limited to one effort. Naturally, a series of examinations is open to many of the strictures placed upon the final examination. There is even more time consumed in preparing and conducting them. The main point in their favor is that they impose far less strain on the pupils. On the contrary,