Pupils score great gains

Improved reading results from summer session

`Our kids can do well'

More than 1,200 took part in program

September 29, 1999|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

A summer school experiment with failing second- and fourth-graders in Baltimore's worst elementary schools has produced some of the greatest gains in reading scores since the city began school reform two years ago.

Results of standardized tests released yesterday showed that 53 percent of second-graders and 43 percent of fourth-graders, required to attend five weeks of summer school, were reading at the national average for their grade levels by the end of the special school session.

Twenty-two percent of the second-graders made up the equivalent of more than a year of instruction during the intense five-day-a-week course. The average gain in reading level for second-graders was six months. For fourth-graders, it was five months.

"This is just a night for us to say, `Wow, wow!,' " said city school board president Tyson Tildon at last night's meeting of the panel. "This is the payoff. This is the kind of thing I think is indicative of what we can do."

The results were the work of 1,210 students at the city's 19 central area schools, almost all of which have been designated as failing by the state Department of Education. The schools also have some of the city's poorest children. Summer school was offered only to failing students.

"Our expectation is that our kids can do well," said Jeffery Grotsky, the area executive officer in charge of the 19 schools. "This is proof it works."

Note of caution

While they celebrated, school board members added a note of caution, saying they were concerned about those who failed. About 20 percent of the children lost ground in summer school, and 9 percent made no progress. In addition, the central area had money to offer summer school to only half of the children who were failing second and fourth grades. Officials chose those students who they believed were closest to being promoted based on the California Test of Basic Skills administered in May and August.

School officials also claimed success with thousands of high schoolers, middle schoolers and elementary school students who voluntarily attended summer school to try to catch up on work they had not mastered the previous academic year.

Officials attributed the success among second- and fourth-graders to several factors: The best instructors at each school taught during the summer, the average class size was 12, and teachers used a highly structured program with four hours of reading instruction daily.

The children were given breakfast and lunch. Field trips and recess were not included.

Those who failed to reach their grade levels for reading in the second and fourth grades have been placed in transitional classes and have not been allowed to move on to their next grades.

`They gave it their best'

"Children understood they really had to do this," said Tench Tilghman Elementary School Principal Elizabeth Turner. "It was going to make a big difference for them. So they gave it their best."

Before summer school started, Monica Gadden, the mother of a fifth-grader at Tench Tilghman, said she wondered if her daughter Latisha should be placed in special education because her reading was so poor.

"They persuaded me to wait until after summer school," Gadden said. "She did wonderful."

Latisha reads at her grade level and keeps up with the regular fifth-grade class. Once a shy, withdrawn girl, she has become an outgoing, self-confident child, Gadden said, adding, "She just needed a little bit more time and more attention."

Program expansion possible

Kristina Handy, a fifth-grader at Liberty Elementary, also was in danger of being held back.

But she gained the equivalent of two years of reading by the end of summer school and tested as well as the average sixth-grader last month.

"I can read like grown-up books, and it is real easy to me now," Kristina said.

The gains are likely to encourage school board members to consider expanding the summer reading programs to include first-graders, and to offer it in other areas of the city next year. The summer session cost the school system about $400,000, or $330 a child, Grotsky said.

Schools in the central area have incorporated some of the structure and the most successful summer school teaching techniques into their regular classrooms this year.

The summer school program did more than help students who were struggling to read.

Principals and administrators said yesterday that third- and fifth-grade teachers in the 19 schools have reported being able to instruct at a quicker pace this year, because the children are reading at grade level.

Some students outside the central area made equally remarkable gains, though the test results were available only for small samples of children.

The results indicate:

Of the 783 seventh-graders who took a three-week math class, 43 percent were able to pass the state's functional math test, which measures basic skills. Students must pass the test before they can graduate from high school.

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