The following is from the Annual Report (#18) of the Board of Education, Saint Louis Missouri, in 1872 - including the Superintendent's discussion of their high school's system of promotion.

This is the first of two excerpts from the Annual Report. This is focused on the evils of the standard promotion system - which was not yet standard in most of the country, but which was becoming increasingly so. With no further delay, the words of Dr. W. T. Harris:

"The High School course is divided into four classes, the work laid down for each occupying one year in its accomplishment. (See Appendix, p. xcv.) The fact that each High School class is expected to begin its work in September and complete it in June, indicates at once the condition of things that I have already alluded to in this report. Such a course of study is "nailed to the calendar," and its progress is rigid and determined by the lapse of time, and not by the progress of the pupil. If a pupil is sick and unable to attend school for ten weeks, he finds, on his return, that there is no class just ready to admit him. The class which he left is now ten weeks in advance of him, and to make up this work and at the same time to do the regular work of the class is too difficult. If it were possible, it would prove a superiority of individual work over work in a class.

"The pupil is probably obliged to enter the next class below, but this class is thirty weeks behind his present acquirements, and his ten weeks' sickness has thus cost him a year's progress. On entering the lower class, however, he finds himself going over familiar ground, and gets careless in his work. By the time his present class arrive at the work from which he was broken off by sickness the previous year, he has acquired a loose habit of study, and is likely to fail on the first difficult study that he encounters. Two failures are pretty sure to complete his discouragement and cause him to leave school. Another case: A pupil, for some reason, is not quite able at the close of the year to pass the standard for admission to the next class, and is accordingly obliged to join the class below. He is set back just one year at once. He might have lacked five weeks' study or ten weeks' study—scarcely more than this—of completing the work of his class. But for this he is obliged to lose nearly a year more than was really necessary. It must be remembered that these are not isolated instances, but that the number of each class who ought to be separated, for one reason or other, from the part of the class that does the work of the grade thoroughly, is about one-third of the entire number. In order to avoid this evil of putting back pupils, there is a strong temptation to let them pass on at a low standard. The consequence of such a course is that each class is impeded in its work by the presence of a number who are not «qual to the performance of their tasks.

"These evils are not confined to the classes of the High School; they extend to the higher classes of the District Schools. Inasmuch as the examination for admission to the High School is to occur in June, the first grade's work of the District School must be completed at that time, and hence must be commenced in September of each year. This fact in turn influences the time of beginning and completing the work of the second grade. The tendency of all this is to produce a system of classification throughout the entire course of the District Schools similar to that in the High School. In this case classes would follow each other at intervals of a year, and the difficulty of properly assigning those who should be classified in grades between those established exists throughout the entire system. In many sections of the country—in Ohio and New York, for example—this very practice prevails. A promotion takes place once or twice a year, on occasion of a general written examination by the superintendent. Those who "pass" go on; those who fail fall back to the lower class or leave school altogether."
IX. Resolved, That we approve of encouraging gifted students to complete the preparatory course in less time than is required by most students.

In this resolution the committee desires to approve a principle, rather, than to recommend a definite plan for the application of that principle. Gifted students should be allowed special opportunities quite as much in grades below the secondary school as in the secondary school itself, and it seems probable, indeed, that the saving of time may be expected most advantageously in the lower grades. The subject of the grading of pupils below the secondary school is, however, not in the province of this committee.

In laying out a course of study the average student must be the basis of reckoning, but in the schematization of educational work there is constant danger that the interest of the individual student may not be sufficiently considered. There are students who must take more than the allotted time in which to complete the preparatory course, while there are others who can easily finish the course in less than the schedule time. This can be done, too, without overpressure and consequent injury to health. It is a truism that some students acquire much more readily and easily than others. Modern educators do not accept the doctrine of Helvetius, that all men are by birth endowed with the same natural capacities. Instead of cramping and confining the more gifted students, it is the duty of the secondary school to discover them and to furnish them every opportunity for progress in their work. There are difficulties of administration, caused chiefly by the time schedule, which sometimes cannot be overcome; but it seems to the committee that students have a right to expect that the school officers will use their best efforts to overcome these obstacles, and, so far as is consistent with good administration, offer to the students full opportunity for progress according to their individual capacities.



February 2017



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