social promotion
n. The practice of promoting failing or unprepared students to the next grade to keep them with their peers.
It has been virtually impossible to flunk New Mexico public school students for the past 13 years because of a state law that allows social promotion.

Plenty of lawmakers and educators think the law has been a disaster. But taking it off the books would not necessarily solve the state's education problems, specifically the dropout problem, experts say.

"Our research tells us that while social promotion is a bad idea, retention of and by itself doesn't work either," said Don Whatley, president of the Albuquerque Teachers Federation, the state's largest teachers union.

Regardless of how bad a student's grades are, a 1986 social promotion law has allowed parents to sign a waiver and pass their children on to the next grade level, even when a teacher recommends they be held back.
—“Some experts say holding students back won't solve problems,” The Associated Press, July 10, 1999
Gov. Bush wants to end social promotions in Florida schools. But some educators worry about repercussions.

One of Gov. Jeb Bush's key education proposals is to end "social promotion," the practice of passing unprepared students from grade to grade.

"Social promotion gives everyone — students, teachers and parents — a tragic false hope and it must end," Bush said last week in his State of the State address to the applause of lawmakers.
—Diane Rado, “Educators seek delay on flunking issue,” St. Petersburg Times (Florida), March 10, 1999
1979 (earliest)
The New York school system's announcement that pupils will no longer be promoted automatically from grade to grade represents a major swing of the educational pendulum. The nation's largest school district is trying to bury a theory from another era: Social promotion. In doing so, the city is responding to nagging doubts, evident throughout the United States, about policies devised some 70 years ago with the intent of protecting children against the pain of humiliation.
—“Experts say social promotion more harmful than helpful,” The New York Times, November 15, 1979
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