Central Falls' Calcutt Middle School has passed students onto high school with failing grades in four core subjects. The stunning development has led to shocked teachers swapping emails with the incoming principal, David Alba, who made the decision to scrap retention of failing students.
"To be clear," Alba responded in one of the emails. "The change I have made to the Calcutt retention policy is not a matter up for debate."
This isn't so much a change in retention policy though, as it as an abolition of it. Central Falls' Superintendent Frances Gallo appears to back Alba's position:
"There is an internal discussion regarding whether or not student retention is or is not helpful," Gallo wrote. "Retention significantly increases the likelihood of a student dropping out of school."
Of course, being hopelessly lost in the high school version of a subject that one failed in middle school has wonderful long term effects on a student's ability, stress levels and future.
Teachers are equally bemused:
"You are essentially saying that failing 50% of the time and even 75% of the time is a standard in which Central Falls believes," the teachers wrote in one response to Alba.
The change in policy isn't merely theoretical, nor does it apply to one or two isolated cases. Dozens of Calcutt Middle School students failed at least two of their core classes, but will still become freshman.
Alba agreed that the failing students may not be as prepared for high school, but he backed up his policy by pointing to studies that he said indicated retention does not work.
"If retention was proven effective, I would support it," Alba wrote.
Walt Buteau, writing for Target 12, has also recently notes that Central Falls is graduating students from the class of 2011 who missed months of classroom time. Eight graduates from the class missed at least 50 of the 180 school days with at least two missing more than 90 days. With standards for graduating as high as these, perhaps Alba has a point in passing the failing children. If they don't need to attend high school to graduate with their diploma then what does it matter if they failed middle school?
This rash of truancy happened the year Central Falls climbed from a 48 percent graduation rate to a 71 percent graduation rate. Several Central Falls teachers tell Target 12 they are skeptical about the 2011 rate.