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FAQs Pupil Promotion & Retention

Frequently asked questions (FAQ) regarding pupil promotion and retention (PPR).

Local PPR Policies and Decision Making

  1. On what criteria should school districts base pupil promotion and retention decisions?

    State law requires every school district to have a written PPR policy approved by the district's governing board. Consistent with Education Code (EC) Section 48070.5(b), a PPR policy needs to include students' grades and other indicators of academic achievement. Students' results on the Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) Program may be included as one indicator of academic achievement. However, STAR results may not be the exclusive criterion for promotion or retention, as they have not yet been certified for that purpose pursuant to EC Section 60648.

  1. At what grade levels and for what subject areas must the district PPR policy have promotion and retention criteria?

    EC Section 48070.5 states that school districts' PPR policies must include criteria for promotion and retention at the following specified grade levels based on grades and other indicators of academic achievement designated by the district:

The identification of students who should be retained or who are at risk of being retained should be based primarily on proficiency in reading between the second and third grades and between the third and fourth grades. For the remaining grade levels, identification should be based on proficiency in reading, English-language arts, and mathematics (EC Section 48070.5[c]). Districts may also set promotion criteria at other grade levels.

  1. I was told that the district is required to use the 40th percentile on a norm-referenced test as part of its measures for promotion and retention. I cannot substantiate this in Education Code.

    The EC does not set a minimum level on any local test for promotion or retention purposes. If a school district (or charter school) incorporates test results among other factors, including grades, in its PPR policy, then the district (or charter school) may set minimum performance levels. Minimum STAR performance levels for promotion or retention have not been established pursuant to EC Section 60648.

  1. May a school retain or promote a student without parent or guardian approval?

    Yes, a school can retain or promote a student without parent or guardian approval. However, the district PPR policy approved by the district's school board must provide an appeal process for parents who disagree with a principal's promotion or retention decision for their student.

  1. Do parents have any right to retain their children for lack of academic progress when the school continues to promote the child to the next grade, especially at the middle grade level?

    A parent has a right to appeal the decision to promote or retain a child. State law requires districts to have promotion and retention criteria for students who are in their last year of middle school (most commonly eighth grade) and are ready to move on to high school (EC Section 48070.5[a][5]). Therefore, the district's PPR policy should provide for the identification of pupils who should be retained and who are at risk of being retained in their current grade when it is their last grade before high school based on grades and other indicators of academic achievement designated by the district (EC Section 48070.5[b]). More important than a decision to have the student promoted or retained at this level is the need for the student to receive additional instructional intervention that will help to improve academic performance.

  1. Is there a high school promotion and retention process?

    The state does not require school districts to have student promotion and retention criteria beyond the last year of middle school to the first year of high school. However, districts may set criteria for promotion for successive grades in high school.

  1. Is there a law or policy regarding the number of times a student can be retained?

    There is nothing in the EC that prohibits school districts from retaining a child in more than one grade. However, school districts are required to develop their own PPR policies under broad state guidelines. Some district PPR policies may prohibit children from repeating more than one elementary grade.

  1. Are there state-approved forms for notifying students and parents when students are identified as at risk of retention, recommended for retention, or retained in grades one through eight?

    There are no state-approved forms for notifying parents when a student has been identified as at risk of retention, recommended for retention, or retained. Each school district is responsible for creating its own forms in accordance with its PPR policy.

  1. What steps do I need to take to advance my child a grade level beyond her or his current grade level in the same school year?

    First, speak to the child's teacher. If the teacher agrees that the child needs to be challenged more academically, then request a meeting with the principal to discuss the child's placement. If the child has not already been identified as gifted and talented and the district has a Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program, ask that he or she be assessed for the program. Some districts permit GATE students to take one or more subjects (for example, mathematics) in a classroom one grade level above their current grade level.

  1. Is there a test that a child can take for promotion from fifth grade to sixth grade toward the end of the school year but about a month before fifth grade will end? Or must the child complete the entire school year in order to promote to the next year?

    No such exam or use of exams is required or encouraged by the state. It would be up to your child's teacher and school principal, in accordance with school district policies, to decide whether or not this is practical for your child and whether the district has a test that would suffice for this purpose.

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Parent and Guardian Right to Appeal PPR Decisions

  1. Our child's teacher has decided that he or she should be retained in the same grade next year. We do not agree with this decision, even though the school principal does agree with it. How can we appeal this decision?

    Every school district should have a district board-adopted PPR policy, which, among its provisions, describes a formal appeal process for challenging a pupil promotion or retention decision on the part of teachers and other district staff (EC Section 48070.5[f]). State law does not provide for the appeal of PPR decisions, beyond the school district level.

Follow the steps outlined in the appeal process and be sure to keep a record of the steps taken to follow the process as well as those taken by the school district. An appeal process usually involves a time line for submitting a written appeal within a number of working days after the formal decision is made to retain or promote a student and for each subsequent step on the part of the parents and the district. Appeals usually start at the school site level with the principal and teacher(s) involved and go on to the district level, with the final decision on the appeal made by the district superintendent or by the district governing board. Note that the burden is on the parent as the appealing party to show why the promotion or retention decision should be overruled.

  1. Even though our son was promoted to high school, we would like him to repeat the eighth grade because we feel that he is lacking understanding in many of the core subjects. The high school agrees with our decision, but the middle school and the district superintendent believe that he is ready to move on. What are my options as a parent at this point?

    The decision to retain or promote a student from the eighth grade should be made by the eighth-grade teachers, based on the school district's criteria in its PPR policy. These criteria should include grades and other local assessment measures of the student's proficiency in reading, English-language arts, and mathematics. If the parent or guardian feels the student does not meet these criteria, the parent or guardian can appeal the decision by following the appeal process set forth in the same PPR policy, which may be requested in writing from the school district. (See the answer to the prior question for more information on the appeal process.)

  1. If I am in disagreement with the school district's final decision in the promotion and retention appeal process, can I appeal the district's decision?

    First, make sure that you have exhausted the formal appeal process in the district's PPR policy. If the district's decision is, in fact, the final stage of the appeal process set forth in the district's PPR policy, your next step would be to make an appeal directly to the local school board.

  1. What legal recourse do I have if I am convinced that the district's PPR policy, or the manner in which it is being implemented by school and district staff, is violating my child's educational or civil rights, either through discriminatory treatment or through a failure to carry out the district's PPR policy or the California Education Code requirements pertaining to pupil promotion and retention?

    The EC provides no further recourse beyond the appeal process in district PPR policies, and there is no direct state oversight of district PPR policies. If you are still convinced that the district is implementing its PPR policy in a manner that is discriminatory in regard to your child, you may contact the California Department of Education's (CDE) Office of Equal Opportunity. The fax number for the Office of Equal Opportunity is 916-324-9818, and the street address is 1430 N Street, Suite 6019, Sacramento, CA 95814. You may also contact the office by calling 916-445-9174.

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Data and Research

  1. Where can I obtain definitive research on retention?

    For an excellent and concise summary of the research on the impact of student retention practices and its policy implications, see ED449241 2000-12-00 Retention and Social Promotion: Research and Implications for Policy. ERIC Digest Number 161 External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF).

  1. Has the state collected any data regarding the number of students retained per district, grade level, ethnicity, gender, or age?

    The CDE has never collected student retention data in a systematic way. The EC only provides general guidelines for district-level PPR policies and requires no data reports in this area.

Questions: Phyllis Hallam | phallam@cde.ca.gov | 916-323-4630 
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