Standards

State Testing Mandates Swell Summer School Ranks

By Linda Jacobson — June 16, 2008 5 min read
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Thousands of incoming middle and high school students in Georgia will spend some of their summer vacations sitting at desks in hopes of earning a passing score when they take another crack at a challenging state math test.

The disappointing scores of 5th and 9th graders on tests they must pass before moving to the next grade are an example of the struggle some states are having as they try to meet the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act while raising their academic standards.

And Georgia is among a number of states where students often end up attending district-administered summer school programs because they didn’t meet academic standards set by the state.

Texas is one of several states in which summer remediation programs are specifically targeted to elementary school pupils who have not met reading targets by the end of 3rd grade.

“Our scores were pretty good this year,” said DeEtta Culbertson, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency. Results show that 93 percent of 3rd graders passed the state test. Still, that leaves more than 24,000 students who will need to retake the test to enter 4th grade this coming fall. The tests are being given next month.

In Georgia, the pressure for summer school enrollment has been especially intense this year because of the new Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, or CRCT, in mathematics. Fifth graders must pass the test to move to middle school, and 8th graders must pass it to advance to the 9th grade.

Almost 38 percent of 8th graders and about 28 percent of 5th graders didn’t pass the tests for their levels. That’s about 82,000 students for the two grades.

Students have been urged to register for summer school, which will be held at different times throughout the vacation months.

The 159,000-student Gwinnett County school system, the state’s largest district, was expecting this year’s enrollment to top last summer’s figure of 3,500 middle school students and 8,000 elementary school students.

Georgia districts have been scrambling to hire additional teachers for the summer.

Tim Callahan, a spokesman and membership director for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, a nonunion group, said he has heard complaints of teachers upset by what they saw as a lack of training on the new math curriculum in the just-concluded school year.

Cuts in California

Summer school—especially any programs on a large scale—can be a sensitive subject among parents and educators.

The Chicago public school system, the nation’s third-largest district, received national attention more than 10 years ago when it began requiring students to attend summer school if they had not met the requirements for promotion at the 3rd, 6th, and 8th grades. (“Summer School Booms in Chicago,” Aug. 7, 1996.)

But Anitra Schulte, a spokeswoman for the 409,000-student district, said required summer school is no longer a “contentious” issue among parents, probably in part because participation doesn’t depend only on a student’s performance on state tests. Other factors include classroom achievement and daily attendance, she said.

“It takes into account those students who excel in the classroom, but sometimes struggle” on standardized tests, Ms. Schulte said. Typically, about 25,000 Chicago elementary and middle school students and 13,000 high school students take summer school classes for promotion purposes.

In California, summer school participation is likely to be down this year because a state budget crisis is forcing some districts to eliminate summer programs as they try to absorb mandatory cuts. Summer classes instead are being reserved largely for high school students who need to pass the state’s graduation exam.

About 115,000 California students have failed to pass the math portion of the state’s exam requirement, and about 110,000 have failed the English language arts portion, although not all are juniors and seniors facing a tight deadline to pass the tests.

“These cutbacks would come at the worst possible time, as the bar has never been set higher for students trying to get into college,” state Assembly member Lloyd Levine wrote in California Progress Report, a policy and politics Web site published by an Oakland lawyer who has been active in the state Democratic Party.

Curriculum Revisions

In Georgia, the news that summer school will be necessary for some students has not been received well by parents who are already upset by problems with the state’s social studies scores.

Last month, state schools Superintendent Kathy Cox threw out the social studies results on the crct because the failure rate was as high as 80 percent in the 6th and 7th grades. Ms. Cox has said that shows a mismatch between what is on the exam and what students are learning in class.

The math test was the first in Georgia based on a more rigorous middle school math curriculum. Teachers are working to integrate the additional material into their classes, and some say they haven’t received enough training on the new curriculum.

In a statement, Ms. Cox said the new standards “are much more rigorous than the math our students have received in the past.” In particular, every student is now being exposed to algebra, geometry, and statistics by 8th grade.

Ms. Cox has asked the U.S. Department of Education for a waiver in order to lower the percentage of students that must pass the exam, to 59.5 percent from 66.7 percent. Only 62 percent of Georgia’s 8th graders passed the test.

The request was denied, but a resubmitted application has received tentative approval.

While the change won’t affect the requirement that students pass the exam, it could make it easier for some schools to make adequate yearly progress, the yardstick used under the NCLB law to measure schools’ gains in student achievement. Schools’ AYP status will be announced in July.

Dana Tofig, a spokesman for the Georgia Department of Education, said that the state actually provided “quite a bit of training” on the new math curriculum, but reiterated the superintendents’ explanation about the learning curve involved in getting students to meet the new standards.

“The results we saw in grade 8 mathematics,” Mr. Tofig said, “were consistent with what we have seen in other mathematics areas as we have implemented this curriculum.”

Despite criticism from some teachers, other Georgia teachers said they felt well prepared for the new tests.

Jackie Covey, who teaches 5th grade at Sara Harp Minter Elementary School in Fayette County, said the math coordinator for her 22,000-student district visited each school “to make sure we understood the expectations.”

She added that she’s pleased with the new curriculum, which she described as “much more specific and much more applicable to students’ roles in everyday life.”

A version of this article appeared in the June 18, 2008 edition of Education Week as State Testing Mandates Swell Summer School Ranks

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