Over 200 students retained in Sumter County Schools

Published 12:41 pm Thursday, August 1, 2019

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By Beth Alston


AMERICUS — It’s not of benefit to a child to pass them along to the next grade if they can’t do the work of the grade they are in. That, according to Sumter County Schools Superintendent Torrance Choates, Ed.D. This year, approximately 200 students are being retained in the public school system. The first day of classes for the 2019-2020 school year is Monday, Aug. 5. Teachers are in pre-planning this week.

Choates, now beginning his fourth school year with the system, talked with the Times-Recorder recently about the subject of retention. Not only is he concerned for the students, but also the teachers. “I’ve always been concerned with our teachers having to attempt to educate students that are sometimes three and four grade levels behind. This is a problem across the country. … If I could get parents to understand it’s not that we’re just trying to retain students. Our goal is to promote grade level to where they can learn the material without struggling, without being turned off school because of struggling. … I’ve visited classrooms and I’ve seen students struggle because they don’t know the material. It turns them off school so they hate coming. … So, we’re doing a massive retention … If a child is not on grade level, then they don’t need to go to the next grade level. That’s in conjunction with the state guidelines and the system board policy.”

Choates said parents are being well notified. “It’s not like spur of the moment notification.” He said letters were sent home to parents in December, warning them they their child was probably going to face retention.

Choates shared with the Times-Recorder retention data from the past several years. In the 2012-2013 school year, 528 students should have been retained but only 130 actually were. The other 398 were passed along to the next grade level, even though they were not proficient at the current grade level. In the 2013-2014 year, 455 students were supposed to be retained, but only 110 were. In the year 2014-2015, of the 219 students who should have been retained, only 128 were. In 2015-2016, only 175 of the 358 were actually retained. In 2016-2017, only 178 of the 342 were retained. In 2017-2018, 207 of the 248 students were retained.

“That’s what we’ve been going through for all these years,” he said. “We went from a 59.6 percent (in 2016-2017) to a 70.9 percent (2017-2018) on the CCRPI, and yes, we’re tied with Schley County; however, we’re getting kids from level one to level two. Our goal is to get them from level two to level three. That’s the hard part. … I promised this system that I’m not going to be complacent. Just because we went up on the CCRPI, we plan to go up even higher. But it’s not just about the test scores; it’s about bringing up the whole student and having them, at the end of 12 or 13 years, college-career ready. And be ready to perform at a college-career level. I can’t say that’s always happened.”

Choates said since he’s making a stance on some of these “very tough” issues, he’s “giving up comfort. People are disliking me for the stance I’m making, and it’s because I really care … At the end of the day I’m not saying everyone’s just moving up the system, … and we’re just going to all be happy. I really want to make a difference. I want these students to really have some knowledge when they leave our schools. … I’m willing to stand in the batter’s box and deal with some issues all because I think these students need a fair shot at life and I can’t say that we’re giving them a fair shot. As superintendents and teachers and principals, we have an obligation to make sure that everyone’s holding the line … everybody — parents and students — have got to hold the line.”

Choates said that students must work for their grades. “We grew up that way and I must say we came out well. I can’t say that’s what happened in the current educational system that this country is in,” he said. “If they work for it, we teach them that good work pays off; that’s a lifelong skill they can use everywhere for the rest of their life.”

Choates said he’s received many calls for parents who aren’t happy, but some have called to ask what they can do with their child over the summer to prepare them for the new school year, even though they will be repeating the grade.

Choates, who grew up in DeKalb County, was retained in the second grade, and he said he’s glad he was because it set him on the right course. He said back then, a grade average of 70 to a 75 was considered struggling and he remembers, as a kid, feeling bad at being retained, but, “if it was not for retention, I wouldn’t be where I am today … There’s nothing bad about retention. Sometimes the student needs an extra year of growth. All kids can learn. Some learn at a faster rate, and some are ready. But if you need the extra year, you need to welcome and cherish that extra year,” he said, adding that he had a doctorate degree at age 31. He said if he had not been retained in second grade, he believes he would have been always behind, struggling and probably would have quit school at age 16.

“There’s nothing wrong with retention,” he reiterated. “Sometimes we just have to embrace it and look at what we’re trying to accomplish in the long run.”