Senate Bill 664 was unanimously approved by the Senate on 5/12/21.
What will this mean for Pennsylvania schools going forward?
Sponsored by Republican Jake Corman, the Bill grants parents the authority to have their children repeat a grade in school during the 2021-22 school year. Current law places all discretion with regard to retention and promotion determinations with the classroom teacher and superintendent.
With an expressed intention to help parents determine the best approach to education for their children, the Bill would impose upon schools unfunded mandates that also run afoul of state and federal mandates with regard to special education.
The Bill sets a deadline of July 15, 2021 for parents to notify schools of their decision to retain their child in the grade level attended during 2020-21.
Parents would have authority to retain their child even if the student has met all educational criteria to advance to the next grade level. The Bill also authorizes students “at or over the age of consent,” a term which is undefined, to elect to repeat a grade with the same July 15 deadline. Schools must create an online application form and make it available on the school’s website.
The Bill also authorizes parents of students who reach the age of 21 prior to the start of the 2021-22 school year and that are eligible for special education and related services, to have the student continue in school for the 2021-22 school year. The school would implement the 2020-21 Individualized Education Plan for an additional year. This parental discretion is granted even if the student has met all graduation requirements and has met educational goals set forth in the IEP.
This initiative comes amid school planning to address these same issues via many avenues.
These include credit recovery and other summer programming targeted to address gaps in learning that may have occurred during the pandemic; targeted and differentiated instruction upon return to in-person instruction for all students; and increased awareness and resources in response to social and emotional concerns.
Implementation of these provisions is rife with consequences that are probably neither considered nor intended by the sponsor. Class sizes for same-age cohorts will swell and shrink at random, making teacher assignments more complicated; peer connections will be burdened as students return to classes that may not include friends with whom students have hoped to re-connect.
In addition, PDE has been guiding schools to plan for accelerated learning initiatives in the fall to address the potential need of some students for remediation to fill gaps in learning. Parentally-selected retention of students will make implementation of these initiatives more complicated and less effective.
More importantly, a large body of research indicates that retention has long-term negative effects on students with regard to self-esteem, motivation for learning, and increased risk for dropping out, and little to no positive effect on increased academic performance.
State and federal laws governing special education programming require that students are educated with their typically-developing peers as much as possible. Allowing parents to mandate retention of students will necessarily remove those students from ongoing inclusion with same-age peers.
Further, the provision to allow students to extend special education eligibility to age 21 imposes a significant obligation on schools even though federal law does not provide funding for such programming for an additional year. The Bill is silent as to how schools will pay for the additional year of programming.
Bottom Line for Schools
KingSpry will continue to monitor this and other pending legislation that affects planning for next school year. Schools must continue to pursue multiple avenues of programming as they have since March 13, 2020 as state guidelines and requirements continue to change. If SB 664 concerns your school board, now would be the time to contact your state representative.