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Klein Is Said to Oppose Delay in 3rd-Grade Retention Plan

March 15, 2004 | By ELISSA GOOTMAN | New York Times

A high-ranking Department of Education official said yesterday that it was "very unlikely" that Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein would endorse a proposed compromise to delay for at least a year Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's tough new promotion requirements for third graders.

But an author of the compromise, Martine G. Guerrier, the Brooklyn borough president's representative on the Panel for Educational Policy, said negotiations were continuing.

The compromise would give lagging third graders extra attention but would not hold them back this year solely because of their standardized test scores.

The Panel for Educational Policy, the successor to the Board of Education, is scheduled to vote tonight on Mr. Bloomberg's proposal to hold back virtually all third graders who score in the lowest of four levels on their citywide math or English tests.

Since the mayor announced the proposed policy in January, it has been criticized by many parents and researchers, who say it is overly harsh, expensive and potentially counterproductive. In response to this criticism, Chancellor Klein has revised the proposal several times.

In recent days, Mr. Klein and his aides have scrambled to make additional revisions in an attempt to win over members of the panel. The panel, eight of whose 13 members are appointed by the mayor, has approved virtually all of his policies.

"I believe that, yes, we will get this passed," Mr. Bloomberg told reporters yesterday. "If we don't, we won't be the loser, the third graders will be," he said.

A rejection tonight would be a major setback to the mayor and the chancellor, at a most difficult time.

Last week, the Department of Education's top instructional official, Deputy Chancellor Diana Lam, and its top lawyer, Chad Vignola, resigned amid accusations of nepotism and a subsequent coverup in the hiring of Ms. Lam's husband by the school system.

Ms. Guerrier proposed an alternative to Mr. Bloomberg's proposal that some panel members said they felt more comfortable with. Her proposal would give this year's third graders extra support and attention, but would not hold them back solely because of test scores.

Yesterday morning, Ms. Guerrier and her son, Domenic, 7, accompanied Mr. Klein as he addressed members of the Concord Baptist Church of Christ, in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

During a brief car ride after the service, and in subsequent conversations, the two discussed the policy, said Sharon Toomer, a spokeswoman for the Brooklyn borough president, Marty Markowitz, who appointed Ms. Guerrier to the panel.

"It's not over until the ink is dry," Ms. Guerrier said before hopping into the chancellor's black Town Car.

Later in the day, Ms. Toomer said, "If we're still in negotiations, of course we're hopeful."

But a top Department of Education official, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity, said the chancellor was unlikely to settle for the centerpiece of Ms. Guerrier's proposal: delaying for at least a year the policy to retain students based on test scores alone.

"The idea that we would postpone the policy for a year is not on the table at the moment," the official said. "Adopting a resolution that would delay our proposed policy for a year is very, very unlikely."

In his remarks during the service, the chancellor asked churchgoers to support the policy. "We promote children knowing they're unprepared for the next grade," Mr. Klein said. "We have got to make the changes, tough though those changes may be."

Afterward, the church's senior pastor, the Rev. Dr. Gary V. Simpson, said he had concerns about the retention policy, although he supported the general idea of ensuring that children are prepared before they move on.

"My sense is that the timing and the process are a big concern," Dr. Simpson said. "Is the system ready to absorb the decision tomorrow?

"I think if we are going to impose this decision tomorrow night, that it's going to be important that we not send the children back into the same classrooms and to the same teachers that have failed them."

During a visit by the mayor to the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, the Rev. Dr. Calvin O. Butts III called social promotion an "insidious policy" and praised Mr. Bloomberg's efforts to stop it. "We have got to end the process of just pushing children along simply because we don't want to hurt their feelings," Dr. Butts said.

Mike McIntire contributed reporting for this article.

Red Alert!
Let's Opt Out of the April 2014 NYS Tests

Parents can refuse to allow their child to take the State high stakes tests. Hand in this letter to your principal [other formats: .pdf .odt .doc]. En Español: [otros formatos: .pdf .odt .doc] Send your child to school and ask that an alternative activity be planned for him/her during the 6 days of testing.

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