Media Release – Time for Schools to End Social Promotion

Commentary, Education, Frontier Centre, Press Release

The Frontier Centre for Public Policy today released a study from research associate and high school teacher Michael Zwaagstra and University of Manitoba education professor Rodney Clifton. The study looked at the practice of social promotion—passing students who might otherwise fail—in Canadian public schools. In their study, Zwaagstra and Clifton argue that this practice leads to weaker academic standards and unskilled high school graduates.

The Frontier Centre backgrounder, An “F” for Social Promotion, examines the research evidence and finds that arguments in favour of social promotion are fundamentally flawed. In fact, there are solid reasons for retaining students in a particular grade under certain circumstances. In support of this claim, they cite the work of The Beginning School Study, a long-term research project that began in 1982 and examined the effects of grade retention on students.

“These researchers found that the negative emotional effects of grade retention on students were significantly less than expected, and children retained in a grade normally experienced increases in their test scores and grades,” note Zwaagstra and Clifton. “The results of this major study strongly suggest that many educators have been too quick to dismiss the merits of keeping struggling students in a grade for an additional year.”

Instead of rigid no-fail policies, Zwaagstra and Clifton suggest that school boards should enact policies that help teachers and principals do what is best for their students. There are times where retaining students in their current grade is appropriate because of serious academic deficiencies or because they have not put in the required effort.

Zwaagstra and Clifton also note that social promotion has a negative effect on student motivation. While advocates of social promotion usually focus on students who have academic difficulties, there are also students who are capable but for whatever reason are not academically successful. “These students must learn that graduating from school consists of more than simply putting in time. Social promotion sends the unfortunate message that effort and attitude make little difference in school,” write Zwaagstra and Clifton.

“The practice of social promotion in Canadian schools needs to be re-evaluated as it is important for all students to receive a good education,” say Zwaagstra and Clifton. “Principals and school boards are not doing their students any favours when they force teachers to promote them to the next grade regardless of their achievement and effort.”

The Frontier Centre backgrounder, An “F” for Social Promotion can be downloaded here:


    For more information and to arrange an interview with the study’s lead author, media (only) should contact:

    Michael Zwaagstra
    204-320-9502 (Land)
    204-371-5125 (Cell)