Kentucky’s ‘Ungraded Primary’ – it was easily one of the most controversial features of the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990.
‘Ungraded Primary’ did away with the traditional school configuration of Kindergarten through the third grade. Instead, early learners were supposed to be grouped according to their performance in each academic area. Students would be regrouped as necessary during the first four years of their school experience. Students would not be promoted to regular configuration fourth grade classrooms until they were ready to do the work expected at that level.
Of course, like many education fad theories in KERA, ‘Ungraded Primary’ didn’t work. Thus, this controversial program is mostly observed in the breach today. Kentucky’s early learners now are largely assembled into a rather traditional K to 3 sort of system. There is even rampant social promotion to the fourth grade (although the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress results for Kentucky’s fourth grade students show that only about one in three of the state’s students are proficient in reading and mathematics).
The interesting thing, however, is ‘Ungraded Primary’ is still required by Kentucky law. While local districts have wide latitude in how they implement the multi-age part of the policy (or not), other features of Primary are still the law.
Consider the contents of Kentucky Revised Statute (KRS) 158.031.
Paragraph (1) of this law says:
“In this section, “primary school program” means that part of the elementary school program in which children are enrolled from the time they begin school until they are ready to enter the fourth grade. Notwithstanding any statute to the contrary, successful completion of the primary school program shall be a prerequisite for a child’s entrance into fourth grade.”
In other words, if a child isn’t ready for the fourth grade, that child should not be sent to the fourth grade. Period. It’s a “prerequisite.”
And, why did the Kentucky Department of Education say they didn’t have a policy about holding students back? Paragraph (2) of the same statute says:
“The Kentucky Board of Education shall establish, by administrative regulation, methods of verifying successful completion of the primary school program in carrying out the goals of education as described in KRS 158.6451.”
In fact, there is such a regulation, 704 KAR 3:440.
Section 3, Paragraph (2) of that regulation says in part:
“Each elementary school shall design the primary school program to address the learning needs of all children who meet the entry age for the primary school program and who are not ready to enter the fourth grade.”
Clearly, existing law and regulation in Kentucky are consistent. Kids who are not ready for the fourth grade should not be promoted to that grade until they are ready.
So, why does Fayette County even need to think about stopping social promotion? It looks to me like every school in the state is already legally required to do so.