By Michèle De Meglio
Art, music, health and shop classes – that’s what students need to succeed. Brooklynites sent that message to city Department of Education (DOE) officials at a hearing about a proposal to toughen promotion standards for eighth-graders. Parents say its unfair for the DOE to hold students to higher standards without lowering class size and offering more classes in engaging subjects. “Our students are bored,” said William McDonald, chair of the Chancellor’s Parent Advisory Council. “What happened to shop classes and music? There is more to learning than math and reading.” “Students have not been provided the necessary tools for success,” said T. Thaddeus Brown, a member of the Coalition for Educational Justice (CEJ), an alliance of parent organizations. “The DOE’s plan would hold back thousands of students.” Brown, who has two children in public schools, said the DOE must reduce class size in grades six to eight and consider an extended day program offering further instruction. “We want extended time at school…so you can introduce more art, music and health,” said Rodrick Daley, a teacher at I.S. 285 in East Flatbush and member of CEJ. With these classes, “there could be a love of school.” “This proposal has been made without any action plan,” agreed Elena Anderson, a member of Make the Road by Walking, a not-for-profit organization assisting low-income Latino and African-American residents. Under the DOE’s proposal for the eighth grade, which is expected to be approved by the department’s Panel for Educational Policy, students who fail standardized English Language Arts (ELA) and math exams will be held back. Students must also pass all core academic subjects – English, math, social studies, and science – to gain promotion. Students who are denied promotion can file an appeal or attend summer school to retake failed courses or exams. Similar promotion policies were already implemented in grades three, five and seven. The DOE says the policy changes, which would go into effect during the 2008-2009 school year, are necessary to end social promotion, the practice of sending students to the next grade regardless of their ability to master the curriculum or obtain basic skills. The current promotion policy “allows for too many students to enter the ninth grade unprepared,” explained Marcia Lyles, the DOE’s deputy chancellor for teaching and learning. Jay Sherry, a social studies teacher at Murry Bergtraum High School in Manhattan, applauded the eighth grade promotion proposal saying it will prevent students from reaching high school unable to succeed. “In my experience,” he explained, “failure rates in my class and that of my colleagues are often around 50 percent.” Having unprepared students has proven detrimental to teens who are ready for high school work, he noted. “I can’t tell you how often a ninth grade class is hurt,” he said.