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School board members were agitated to see that most of San Diego’s failing eighth graders weren’t held back as a policy passed last winter had intended.

Trustees Mitz Lee and Luis Acle joined John de Beck, who backed a strict retention policy to keep low-achieving students from being pushed along to high school, in calling for the district to “close the loophole” that allows parents to opt out of keeping their kids back. De Beck suggested that if parents refuse to let their kids be retained, the students must be required to go to summer school. Currently, summer school is optional.

“This isn’t a retention policy,” Lee said. “It’s actually promoting kids.”

Trustee Katharine Nakamura criticized the limited data provided by the district, which she said made it difficult to assess whether intervention measures or different summer school programs had helped at-risk kids.

But trustee Shelia Jackson, who opposed the retention policy when it passed earlier this year, said schools need to assess teacher performance more closely before holding kids back. Jackson added that low-achieving kids should be targeted earlier.

“Let’s not wait until the third grade,” Jackson said. When a third-grader is already behind, “that’s not a failure of the child. That’s a failure of the district.”

Trustees asked the district staff to craft a 3rd grade retention policy, and to put the retention issue on next month’s board agenda.

(On a slightly different note, voiceofsandiego.org requested demographic data on the retention policy last month, and was told by district staff that the information couldn’t be released because it hadn’t yet been shown to board members. There is no such provision under public records law. We filed a Public Records Act request for the data, and were sent a response by district legal staff in late October, which agreed that the data was public, but said it was not yet collected. The information would be furnished as soon as it had been collected. The data included in the board packets, such as the ethnic makeup of retained students, composed some of the information we had requested. As of Wednesday morning, the information had yet to be sent directly to voiceofsandiego.org. School district legal staff contacted Tuesday said the staff member directly responsible for Public Records Act requests was unavailable to clarify why the district did not furnish the data when it was complete.)

EMILY ALPERT

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