Summer school was a fabulous success, the Mayor and Chancellor said yesterday. Sounds like it was, but then so is everything they do.
But you have to take their word for it. Last year, the DOE released a set of charts with the summer school press release, showing exactly how many students attended, passed or were retained compared to the previous year. They even explained, very nicely, exactly how they cooked the books, ostensibly to make the comparison with the previous year more accurate after a change in testing policy.
This year, no charts. And, in fact, it appears they revised some numbers, because the percentage of kids recorded as scoring at Level 2 in last year’s chart doesn’t match the number in this year’s press release. But there’s no way of getting an explanation. The New York Times, the Advance and all the tabs did the story and the numbers. Basically, 55 percent of third graders who attended the “Summer Success Academy” got to Level 2 versus what the DOE said was 49 percent last year. (Last year’s charts put that number at 51 percent.)
For fifth graders, 43 percent who went to summer school scored at Level 2 and will be promoted. There was no retention policy in effect for fifth grade last year, though the press release said 28 percent of last year’s fifth graders passed successfully out of summer school.
Without taking away from the hard work that went into promoting these children, there are a flies in the ointment, which the DOE downplayed. Most important, Level 2 is not “passing.” Level 2 means a student is approaching standards, not meeting them. It allows the student to be promoted to the next grade, but it doesn’t mean s/he’s out of the academic woods. Giff Miller put out a study in May that pointed out that 84 percent of last year’s Summer Success graduates failed to meet standards on the 4th grade ELA this year.
Another troubling fact is that fewer Level 1 students attended summer school this year–70 percent vs. 73 percent last year. In the third grade 79 percent of kids who were supposed to attend actually attended, versus 84 percent last year. In high schools, which are always worse, only two-thirds of kids showed up.
Finally, this is an expensive program. Last year’s press release mentioned the cost–$32 million for the third grade alone. This year’s didn’t, but the papers put the summer school bill at $28 million for 11,700 children. There was an additional cost of about $40 million during the year for the Saturday classes and other interventions for fifth grade students in danger of retention. Maybe this is too expensive to sustain, just as the last retention effort, the Gates Program of the 1980s, proved too costly to last. But the year-long, intensive interventions that struggling fifth graders received this year are exactly what research shows these children most need. In fact, despite the cost and the controversy, if what Bloomberg’s retention policy is is an intervention strategy in disguise that’s fine, because that stuff works. Small classes, specially trained teachers and the kind of direct instruction that is used in these settings really benefit these kids. That’s the success. Mayors and chancellors come and go.