New evidence shows that ending social promotion – the practice of allowing students to advance a grade level without having mastered the content of their current grade – is having a positive result in student testing. A new study released on October 15th by the RAND corp., shows how New York City seventh graders who were held back as fifth graders have made academic gains.

The study, which looks at the effectiveness of the New York City Department of Education’s 2003 grade promotion policy, finds that fifth-graders who were held back due to low testing scores in math and language arts tested better as seventh-graders than did their peers who also tested low but advanced to grade six anyway. The policy, which put an end to social promotion for fifth-graders in 2003-04, has since been expanded to include grades five through eight.

Students in the Big Apple aren’t the only benefactors of the new policy. New York City Schools’ Chancellor Joel Klein takes notice of the success Florida has also had by ending social promotion. Klein writes about the similarities that exist between the policies Florida has implemented and those New York City is trying to implement in Education Next:

“Like Florida’s schools, New York City’s serve a high-needs population. But we are not allowing demographics to define our outcomes. Since 2002, our students have made steady progress. Today, far more students are meeting and exceeding standards in math and reading. We’ve substantially narrowed the racial and ethnic achievement gap, our students are catching up to students in the rest of the state, and our graduation rate is the highest it has been in decades.”

In their paper Demography as Destiny?, Matthew Ladner and Heritage’s own Dan Lips discuss the reforms Florida has taken to improve student performance, which includes ending social promotion. The authors’ write:

“When it comes to education progress, Florida is a star performer. Moreover, its success has come in spite of a challenging student demographic profile and relatively modest resources… One of the pillars of the Florida accountability reforms has been the policy, introduced in 2003, of not promoting 3rd graders unless they perform at a minimally acceptable level on the reading portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT).”

From 1998- 2007 Florida saw the largest gains in NAEP scores out of any other state due to the reforms made under the leadership of Governor Jeb Bush. In the study Getting Ahead by Staying Behind, Jay Greene and Marcus Winters of the University of Arkansas show how ending social promotion in Florida produced results like those now being seen in New York City. In the end, students held back their third-grade year due to under-achievement were ultimately better off.

Many new reforms in education are often met with resistance as politicians and educators would rather not challenge the status quo. But thanks to those select few who put their reputations on the line to create better systems of education, new, effective policy can be found through common sense reforms. This is the case with New York City and Florida, where ending social promotion has led to positive gains in student achievement.

Taylor Stair currently is a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: