The halls at P.S. 24 in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, were especially quiet this summer. Just two small classes of third and fourth graders went to school — and they were padded with more than a dozen students who were not even required to be there.
Principal Rose Silva Dubitsky said only four of the 22 students in total were required to attend summer school this year because they were at risk of being held back. By contrast, 35 students were mandated for summer school last year. To her, this presented an opportunity to focus on those who needed the most help.
"I think that the children who needed to stay back really were egregiously behind," she said.
The drop in summer school students followed a change in state policy. Instead of relying solely on test scores to determine which students needed summer school, New York education officials told school districts to let teachers and principals decide, based on student class work and attendance. About 24,000 elementary and middle school students wound up being mandated for summer school, a 25 percent drop from last year.
At P.S. 24, Silva Dubitsky said her teachers encouraged 18 additional students to go anyway, so they could benefit from the extra attention. The classes focused heavily on reading comprehension skills. But those four students at risk of being left back a grade received especially close scrutiny as teachers tracked their progress each day. They also met with reading specialists on three different occasions to assess their skills.
In a small room apart from his classmates, an eight-year-old boy read a few paragraphs and then answered questions with a specialist. His summer classroom teacher, Mercedes Valentin, compiled a portfolio of his work which will be used to determine whether he made enough progress to move to fourth grade.
In past years, students had to take a test to determine whether they could be promoted. Not so this year. Valentin said she is relieved she could focus on reading comprehension without the pressure of preparing for a test.
"I think the test would probably just put extra stress on him," she said.
Critics of the summer school policy change worried many students missed out on valuable enrichment. A few principals acknowledged that there were students who could have benefited. Still, P.S. 24's principal said she was confident she got the right ones.
"It was really a very informed decision by mostly the teacher who has spent you know, seven, eight months, nine months with them day and day out," Silva Dubitsky said.
This week, principals are making the final call on who will be promoted to the next grade. A possible consequence of the new summer school focus is that a greater percentage will be held back than last year when just 25 percent of summer school students repeated a grade.