Summer school a must as standards toughen

10,000 city students trying to improve skills, meet requirements to pass

July 15, 1999|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

Just as blistering heat was enveloping Baltimore late last month, 48 second- and fourth-graders trooped off to summer classes at Walter P. Carter Elementary School in hope of improving their reading and writing skills and passing to the next grade.

This year, summer school is mandatory for these children and about 1,500 others at 19 city elementary schools where passing standards have gone from lax to tough. A year ago, every pupil at Walter P. Carter was promoted to the next grade; this year 50 percent of the school's second- and fourth-graders were held back.

"I think initially some of them were crestfallen," says principal Lily McElveen. But soon the children were arriving early, eager to learn, she says.

McElveen got less resistance from parents than anticipated: "Usually, when you talk to parents, they are really happy to have what is best for their child."

A second chance

From elementary to high schools, an increasing number of Baltimore children are getting a second chance at learning. With almost one in 10 city students in summer school this year, Baltimore, like other cities across the nation, is edging closer to year-round schooling.

About 10,000 city students are back in school: second- and fourth-graders working on reading, middle-schoolers learning math at a technology camp, and high-schoolers trying to meet a graduation requirement.

For five weeks this summer, second- and fourth-graders at 19 of the city's lowest-performing schools are back at the books from 9 a.m. to noon four days a week. The pupils were chosen because they were reading below grade level. All will be held back if they don't attend summer school.

`Not punishment'

"This is not punishment," says Jeffery Grotsky, the area executive officer in charge of the 19 schools. "What we are trying to have our parents understand is that if the children move on before they are ready, the cycle of failure will continue."

In classes of 15 children, teachers offer pupils the same texts and curriculum as they get during the school year. But instead of simply reviewing material, they focus on pupils' particular learning problems.

The Carter school has grouped pupils according to ability, not age. So pupils in one class still read haltingly, their fingers moving slowly under each word, while in another class pupils confidently write sentences. Teachers believe the first group might see progress but will still have to repeat their grades.

Because research shows pupils who repeat grades are more apt to drop out later in school, Grotsky says, most repeating pupils will be put in "transitional" classes catering to their deficits while providing new material to study.

Not all pupils were given a chance at summer school. Grotsky says he had estimated 50 percent of each grade would be held back, but tests showed 66 percent of second-graders and 69 percent of fourth-graders in his area were significantly behind in reading.

That meant that at schools with the highest failing rates, there were only places for pupils most apt to move on to the next grade. A pupil reading a year or two behind, for example, is not likely to make up the difference in five weeks of summer school.

About 5,000 city ninth-graders also are trying to make up for lost time at a five-day-a-week remedial class for reading and math, offered at 11 sites around the system.

All the students are entering ninth-graders who haven't passed the Maryland Functional math and English tests, a state requirement for a high school diploma, says Sherrie Collette, director of curriculum and instruction. Another 1,800 high school students are trying to make up classes they missed or failed.

Remedial math help was extended to sixth- and seventh-graders as well. Almost every middle school has a technology camp this summer -- aimed at getting middle-schoolers prepared to pass the functional tests before they get to high school.

Pub Date: 7/15/99

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