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Legislator questions school promotions in response to Denfeld teachers' concerns

A state legislator from the Twin Cities filed legislation on Monday in response to complaints by Duluth teachers about unprepared students being promoted to higher grade levels.

State Sen. Chuck Wiger
State Sen. Chuck Wiger, DFL-Maplewood

A state legislator from the Twin Cities filed legislation on Monday in response to complaints by Duluth teachers about unprepared students being promoted to higher grade levels.
“I am saying if a district is socially promoting, how is that helping you to get to the ultimate goal of students being college- and career-ready?” asked the bill’s author, state Sen. Chuck Wiger, DFL-Maplewood.
In an interview, Wiger said he was inspired to write the bill by a Feb. 8 story in which the News Tribune reported that 24 Denfeld High School teachers had signed letters protesting the practice of advancing students in spite of failing marks.
Although Wiger’s legislation would apply to every school district, it was the story about the Denfeld teachers that caught his eye, he said.
The bill, SF 1067, would add one clause to an existing statute that requires school boards to develop strategic plans aimed at “creating the world’s best workforce.”
It would require “a process for determining grade promotion or retention that supports each student’s progress and growth toward career and college readiness.”
In a statement, Duluth Superintendent Bill Gronseth said the school district does have a policy in place on promotions and retention.
Research shows that retention doesn’t improve student achievement, Gronseth said, but in specific cases the school system does retain students when that’s the best strategy.
In the past, Wiger has offered legislation prohibiting social promotion. This proposal wouldn’t go that far, he said.
“I’m not stating that you should hold back students, but I would question why a student would advance if they are not actively involved in a remedial program, intervention program, summer school or early detention effort,” Wiger said.
In his statement, Gronseth said the Duluth district does have interventions in place. He cited the improvement seen at Laura MacArthur Elementary in West Duluth to a focus “on helping students before they fail.”
The bill doesn’t yet have companion legislation in the House, Wiger said. It also doesn’t have Duluth’s DFL state senator, Roger Reinert, on board, but Wiger did notify Reinert of his intentions, he said.
Reinert confirmed that on Monday, saying he also doesn’t want students advanced when they aren’t ready. But he sees the bill as primarily a conversation-starter, Reinert said.
“I don’t know that this legislation is needed in Minnesota,” Reinert said. “But I don’t see any harm at all in a senator raising the issue. … When the Legislature has a public conversation, people pay attention.”
Wiger said his bill will get a hearing within several weeks. It’s sure to get a hearing, because he is chairman of the Senate’s E-12 Education Committee that would study it.

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