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Will pandemic mean fewer Cincinnati students held back a grade this year?

Posted at 5:49 PM, Apr 14, 2021

CINCINNATI — Some local students and their families might be able to expect the district to be a little more lenient about moving students onto the next grade this year.

As the end of the 2020-21 school year approaches across Tri-State districts, officials are grappling with how to work with students who may have fallen behind during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cincinnati Public Schools -- where David Brenner has four children across two school buildings -- is encouraging its teachers to avoid holding students back a grade level if at all possible.

"With high school graduation requirements and all that, they have to be able to keep up with the classes," said Brenner, who has two children at Walnut Hills High School and two more at Sands Montessori. "But I would say they need to have tutors or intervention specialists or additional class time to be able to help those students."

Parents are concerned the pandemic could impact students who might not be doing well in the classroom.

"One of my children is struggling in two of her classes," Brenner said. "By all accounts, they should retake those classes."

If his daughter needs to retake classes, that would mean she wouldn't be coming back to Walnut Hills.

"It's a balancing act of making sure they're caught up with needing to be at grade level," Brenner said. "And if they get held back, how does that affect their mental health long term? They lose their entire cohort. There's a stigma of getting left behind."

Turns out, the district's 140-page Remote Learning Plan, submitted to the Ohio Department of Education prior to the school year's start last August, points to data that shows Brenner's suggestions might be on the right track.

"The research is clear that neither retention nor social promotion is effective in improving students' academic or social skills," said district spokesperson Frances Russ. "Repeating a grade or course has negative long-term impacts on student success."

The plan says "every effort should be made" to find other supports and interventions for students instead of holding them back a year.

The plan advises avoiding retention except in rare cases, which can include a parental request.

Russ said each school in the district has a team that identifies what additional supports students might need, and the Summer Scholars program is designed uniquely by each school with input from students and parents.

"The focus is on giving students extra time to engage with the curriculum in fun, hands-on ways, participate in social-emotional learning," she said.

Russ added the new retention/promotion plan was developed independently of the pandemic and will remain in place after learning conditions return closer to normal.