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What is Social Promotion?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 23, 2024
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Social promotion is the act of promoting students from one grade to the next even though they have not demonstrated sufficient knowledge of grade level standards. The impetus behind social promotion is that it is considered harmful to keep a child back, called retention, from a social standpoint. In social promotion, the key is allowing the child to continue to develop relationships with his/her current peer group. Retention is seen as negative and corresponds with a higher dropout rate.

Many schools have ended social promotion by conducting standardized testing at certain grade levels in order to ascertain that the student can academically progress to the next grade level. In particular, high school exit examinations, though frequently contested, are supposed to be a way to be certain that a student has mastered basic skills throughout K-12 education and can demonstrate such skills in test form.

However, a student who has been the subject of social promotion in the past may not be equipped to take exit examinations. Therein lies at least part of the problem. If in a child’s school career, he or she has not mastered the basics, he or she may attend school for 13 years without being able to earn a high school diploma. Continued inability to progress to the next level of education tends to snowball, creating both academic and social problems.

Since some schools now advocate retention, strategies for ending social promotion must be in place. One of the problems with retention is that a student often takes the same class from the same teacher the next year. This means teaching methods and material remain the same. If the student is not the kind of learner that responds to the teacher’s particular methods, then repeating a year in school may not promote greater mastery of skills.

Schools that attempt to end social promotion do so best by testing kids early and providing interventions or assistance for students who repeatedly appear to demonstrate difficulty with grade level material. Reducing class size, having well-funded special education programs and identifying problem areas for specific children have can also minimize social promotion.

When students are retained, they need to have support systems in place that will help them successfully master grade level material. Educational testing, modification of curricula, and switching the student to a different teacher can all be helpful tools. Without support available to the retained child, or one who has experienced social promotion, success in later grades is minimal.

Retention continues to have its negatives, as does social promotion. Students who are retained are more likely to continue to exhibit poor performance in school, and have a much higher dropout rate. Retention also costs more money, since it will take longer for a state to educate a student.

Despite intervention, some children may not perform well on exit tests, and they may not receive necessary modifications which would allow them to do so. Many exit examinations are being challenged as discriminatory, and many feel that significant improvement needs to be made on these tests to accommodate students who can demonstrate mastery of basic skills in one form, but perhaps not in another.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By anon177153 — On May 17, 2011

So would you rather your child keep his "childhood friends" or get the proper education so he/she can function in the world? I cannot think of more than a half-dozen "childhood friends" that I kept in touch with after leaving for college and moving on into the world. Was not socially promoted, but did repeat a grade and it opened my eyes!

By anon111039 — On Sep 14, 2010

Loss of friends in class is also a powerful incentive for borderline students to work harder and avoid retention.

By oasis11 — On Aug 06, 2010

Sneakers41- I think social promotion can be done if the parent is actively involved with the child’s education.

Supplementing the child's education at home and providing the use of tutor can help the child reach additional educational gains.

If the supplemental work is consistent enough, many children with this problem can be successful in school.

By sneakers41 — On Aug 06, 2010

Suntan12- I agree with you, and the same can be said about reading. If the child has not adequately learned how to read by third grade, it will be very difficult for the child to complete homework assignments in future grades.

Since reading becomes more intensive as the child progresses through the grades, this will severely hurt the child's academic progress.

By suntan12 — On Aug 06, 2010

Moldova- I agree that social promotion in education is a large issue.

Social promotion in public schools is prevalent today.

Many students are promoted to the next grade without developing the proper foundation necessary for the future grades.

This poses an increasing problem as a child gets older. Subjects like math for example, have concepts that build upon themselves.

If the child did not successfully understand or learn previous concepts, Future concepts will be impossible to understand.

By Moldova — On Aug 06, 2010

Anon53006- I agree this was a well-written article. I wanted to add that there are grade retention pros and cons.

The biggest advantage to retaining a student is that by repeating the material covered in school they might be able to gain the necessary knowledge to perform satisfactorily the following year.

Since this would be a review for the student, it should be significantly easier than the past year.

The disadvantage to grade level retention involves the social aspects. A child that is retained will no longer be in class with the same set of friends they had in the previous grade.

This can be a source of anxiety and depression for the retained student. The student can also feel self-conscious because of their age and size especially if they are the largest in the class.

By anon53006 — On Nov 18, 2009

thanks for the help, wisegeek.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor,...
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