Summer School Begins for Students and Teachers

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Tens of thousands of students were back in the classroom Monday for the first day of summer school in New York City.

Education officials say the program is for students who need the extra support in order to move on to the next grade. Specifically, students who did not meet promotional criteria -- which are tied heavily, but not exclusively, to test scores -- are the ones who are encouraged to attend.

Officials said they believed that the summer school model in its current form needs to change, starting perhaps with the term "summer school."

"It has a negative connotation, right?" said Dorita Gibson, deputy chancellor for equity and access. "And truth be told, you can't make up a school year in six weeks. It's very hard. Maybe you can fill some gaps."

By and large, summer school classrooms are filled with third- through eighth-grade students who scored a Level 1 on the state math or English test, or high school students who failed to pass a Regents exam or are missing a required course credit.

The city's Department of Education says principals recommended nearly 33,000 third- through eighth-grade students for summer school this year based on state test scores, a slight decrease from last year of about 1,200 students.

Some of these students subsequently produced portfolios of work and were able to pass to the next grade, education officials said. But more students, in elementary, middle and high school, were recommended for summer school based on other criteria, like failing a class or subject area. The Education Department said it would not have official enrollment numbers until the fall.

Individual schools administer summer coursework, so the program style and schedule may vary slightly across schools. But, over all, summer school is light on classroom time and has the end goal of getting students to pass a modified version of state assessments or Regents exams.

For elementary and middle school students, the Education Department recommends a rule of fours: students meet four hours each day, four days per week for four weeks. Then students have the opportunity to re-take state math and English tests in August.

For high school students, the recommended schedule is only slightly longer. Students meet for five hours each day for all five weekdays over the course of five-and-a-half weeks. Afterward, students will have the chance to take Regents exams over two days.

New York City is now one of 21 school districts nationwide that are part of an initiative called New Vision for Summer School, which is pushing to move summer school away from a model of remediation.

Changes to the program may come as soon as next year, Ms. Gibson said, when the Education Department plans to quickly apply some of the best practices of a new summer learning pilot, which also started Monday, called SummerQuest. (The project is also spearheaded by the Department of Youth and Community Development.)

Students enrolled in the pilot project will get nine-and-a-half-hour days of classroom time combined with enrichment projects and field trips. SummerQuest is trying to lose the punitive tenor of summer school by enrolling students who did make it to the next grade. The focus of the program is helping students maintain their academic skills, and possibly gain ground over the summer, rather than on remediation.

SchoolBook will have more in-depth reporting on the pilot program in the coming weeks.