Board members question promotion of students

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Tuttle-Building

NAUGATUCK — Members of the Board of Education are concerned that some students may be advancing grade levels despite failing classes.

Board member Glenn Connan said former Assistant Superintendent of Schools Brigitte Crispino told him that 15 percent of students at Cross Street Intermediate School and City Hill Middle School had a grade-point average below 59 percent and 45 percent of students had a grade-point average below 69 percent, yet all were promoted to the next grade following the 2011-12 school year.

Connan and other board members said during the Nov. 14 meeting that they have been pushing for discussion on the topic for the past two years, but the previous administration seemed unwilling to take it on.

“We could never get the final figures because it was like pulling teeth. It’s not something they wanted to advertise,” Connan said.

Board members are asking the new interim superintendent, James Connelly, and assistant superintendent, Christopher Montini, to come up with figures for students’ year-end grade point averages and how many students were held back a grade in the past two years.

Connelly said he would have a report by February.

Connan said that low expectations lead to low results.

“We want accountability. We want grades that matter. We don’t want a kid who never hands in homework, got all Fs, to move to next grade level,” Connan said.

Starting this year, high school students must earn a 70 percent grade to pass a class, up from 60 percent previously.

Naugatuck High School Principal Janice Saam said in June that many students only work as hard as they need to pass; she hoped that by increasing the passing grade, students would work harder to meet that goal.

Connan said he has heard frustration from teachers that there are no consequences for students who don’t do any work. He said students who move up a grade without the prerequisite skills hold the whole class back.

“It really puts a teacher in a difficult position,” he said.

Montini said he knew of one student who was held back a grade and one who was pushed forward this year.

The current policy on promotion and retention is vague, leaving the decision up to teacher and parent discretion.

“There is no black and white,” Montini said. “I know we treat promotion and retention on a case-by-case basis.”

Mayor Robert Mezzo said the district’s goal should not be to keep students back, but to use that possibility as a tool to encourage students to succeed. He said the district needs to make sure there are programs in place to make sure a student who had to repeat a grade makes progress.

The school board agreed to continue to discuss the issue in the policy subcommittee.

Dan Sheridan, a member of the finance board, urged the board to move quickly to implement a new policy before next school year.

“You get what you expect, and if you don’t expect much, you get what we have right now, which is a district in the bottom 30 percent of the state,” Sheridan said. “Let’s have a tight agenda. Let’s get something done this year.”