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Accountability: Is Rockford Public Schools Passing Students That Should be Failing?

Eyewitness News investigates if "social promotion" is being used to pass certain students who did not make the grade.
Rockford- Reverend Anthony Grier spent fifteen years in the Rockford Public Schools. He most recently worked as a job vocational coach until last year. He says he saw first hand high school students who were nearly illiterate.

Grier says “it was puzzling to see that some of the students couldn’t write their names, or write in cursive.”

The students were not qualified, but passed because of what he calls social promotion. Grier says “if a student is causing problems in class, the way around it was they just basically would go ahead and pass them instead of addressing the issues that the student may be having. So then that kid would not get the attention needed.

He keeps in touch with many former students who feel let down by Rockford Public Schools. Grier says “when the students leave our district uneducated or not showing ways of being successful, you have to blame those that trained them.”

Assistant Superintendent Dan Woestman counters “I’d be really surprised if there were students, who got through the system, and they got through the district and they can’t read.

Woestman says the district is now enforcing accountability. A freedom of information request obtained by Eyewitness News shows that RPS held back 906 of their near 7,700 high school students last year.

Woestman says “every year there are a handful of students in our district that don’t have the opportunity to move to the next grade because they fail too many courses, so we make sure those students have passed those courses before they go to the next grade level.”

He adds the district is doing what they can to hold themselves accountable. He says “some examples of those added interventions have been expanding our school day to provide more opportunities to learn during the day. We have lunch tutoring in a lot of our schools. That is giving students an extra chance to learn. So we are trying to identify kids and give them more assistance than we have in the past.”

Those were options students did not have years ago. Woestman cites years ago where students may be getting one english class, but are getting more.

Cindy Waddick from the Literacy Council says she’s seen the number of RPS graduates who need help with their reading drop. She believes it’s because the school is holding more accountability in students meeting their criteria.

Waddick says “a few years ago we were getting a number of students that were coming to us that had graduated and they were reading at a lower level, an elementary level. What we’re seeing now, is we’re not getting people on that level anymore.”
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