Friday, April 9, 2004

HOUSTON (AP) — City schools are dropping a policy that required high school students to pass such core courses as English and math before they moved on to the next grade.

The board of the Houston Independent School District on Thursday gave preliminary approval to a new promotion policy that school officials hope will keep struggling students from getting discouraged and help cut the district’s dropout rate.

More than 5,000 freshmen and sophomores who would have been held back under the old policy will now be promoted.

“The ninth grade has become a bottleneck year,” Abe Saavedra, the school district’s executive deputy superintendent, told the Houston Chronicle in yesterday’s editions.

He said 43 percent of the district’s freshmen are over age. More than one-third of 10th-graders have failed at least one grade.

But the change does not amount to social promotion, the district’s trustees said, because those students still will have to pass classes they failed before they graduate. Instead, they said, the new promotion policy offers more flexibility and avoids branding students as failures when they fail just one class.

Board members had added the core course requirement a year ago.

“I view this policy ahead of us as compassionate high standards,” said district trustee Dianne Johnson.

The Houston district’s educators plan to use $8.8 million in additional federal money for more tutoring, summer school and other programs aimed at helping students pass the classes they’ve failed, Mr. Saavedra said.

Surrounding school districts require their ninth- and 10th-graders to pass their core classes to move on.

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