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Summer School–no flies, Mayor says

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.



  • 1 institutional memory
    · Aug 30, 2005 at 5:44 pm

    I get all nostalgic when you talk about the Gates Program (1981-91). For those of you too young to remember, Gates was the brainchild of Mayor Ed Koch and Chancellor Frank Macchiarola; no student could pass through the promotional gates that were established in grades 4 and 7 unless they passed the standardized math and reading tests. What I remember most vividly about Gates is how old the Gates kids were! I taught seventh grade English one year, and most of the kids in the Gates class were old: 14, 15, even 16. A lot of kids dropped out at 16, never having made it out of junior high school. The gory details of the Gates debacle can be found on the web at http://www.advocatesforchildren.org/pubs/5thgradeRetentionwhitepaper9-27-04.doc, but I warn you, it’s not for the faint of heart. (Though it does include one of my favorite quotes, from a pre-NCLB CTB-McGraw Hill: “No single test can ascertain whether all educational goals are being met. A variety of tests–or, multiple measures–is necessary to provide educators with a well-rounded view of what students know and can do. Just as different tests provide different information, no one kind of test can tell us all we need to know about a student’s learning.â€?) On the other hand, I hope that Mayor Mike and Klein the Educator take a peek. They seem to have forgotten that the more things change, the more they remain the same.

  • 2 JennyD
    · Aug 31, 2005 at 7:24 am

    Your trackback isn’t working with mine, so I’ll note here that I wrote about this post: