It's a bird! It's a plane! No...it's Superfreshman!
The title for this post might also be called "When is a sophomore not a sophomore?" More districts in Washington state are catching on to the idea that in order to receive class standing in high school, a student should have a particular number of credits. Seattle is the largest to jump on board. The impact of "reclassifying" students based on credits should have a very interesting impact on WASL scores because it means that those students least likely to pass won't take the test this year. (You can read more about this idea in a recent Seattle Times article.)
Like you, I've read lots of articles on whether or not kids should be promoted to the next grade level based on their performance (or lack thereof). Most of these seem to look at this practice at the elementary grade levels. (Mr. McNamar over at The Daily Grind was thinking about these ideas a little while ago. I recommend a look at his post.) Does having a structure around promotion at high school also increase the dropout rate?
We have this system at my school---and have for some time now. Originally, the idea was not to make WASL scores better. This was before NCLB and other expectations. We wanted to provide a motivation for students to focus on learning. If you think you're a junior, but your picture is in the "sophomore" section of the yearbook, perhaps you'll make more of an effort to get your credits up. If you want all the privileges of being a senior---picking up your schedule first, getting a locker, going to events, voting for Homecoming court, etc.---then you must have the requisite number of credits. It doesn't matter how many years you've been in school.
Has the program worked as intended? I don't know that we ever really collected any hard data on this. There have been plenty of anecdotal pieces over the years. I can think of several kids I've had who've gone to summer school so that they could do senior things or talked about how they are trying to make up credits before the yearbook goes to print so that they're in the "right" section. It might be a negative variety of motivation, but it did have an impact. One of which was to our vocabulary as any second year student automatically gets "Super" attached to the beginning of their title. :)
Mind you, all of this was in the days before the new graduation requirments---when credits were enough to get a diploma. Kids now have to pass the WASL, complete a senior project, and file a "Year Plus" plan for what they will do following high school. Reclassifying students will now also serve schools and likely boost their WASL scores. If you're Seattle and the lowest 25% of kids won't be taking the tests this spring, you stand a chance of looking pretty darned good.
Which kids are in that lowest 25%? Boys? Minorities? SPED? ELL? Probably---but I don't know that anyone has thought of looking at that. Will being superfreshmen make them more ready for the WASL next year? Unlikely, unless schools plan some targeted instruction for those kiddos. I know mine hasn't.