Giving pupils second chance

City board to discuss options to stop social promotion

`Very aggressive plan'

Summer schools, tutoring among proposals considered

February 29, 2000|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

As many as half of Baltimore's second- and fourth-graders might be required to go to classes this summer as city public schools begin raising academic standards and holding back pupils who don't make the grade.

Administrators are expected to propose today that the school board retain children in those grades who can't pass math and reading tests -- an estimated 40 percent to 50 percent of children in city schools.

The children will have a second shot at taking the tests and passing after summer school, and will be given tutoring and after-school programs to help them meet standards.

"I am hoping a majority would move on to the third and fifth grade," said Betty Morgan, chief academic officer, who will present the proposal to the school board at 5: 30 p.m. at school headquarters on North Avenue. "This is a very aggressive plan. If it works as I expect, it will be of great benefit to our students."

The elementary summer school proposal is one of about a dozen ideas aimed at helping the city's many failing pupils catch up with peers nationwide. In a report this month, a consulting group said more than half the system's 103,000 students are not at grade level.

"Summer school alone won't do it for a lot of our kids," Morgan said. "A lot of children need one-on-one instruction or intensive small group instruction. They need more time to learn."

The proposals are expensive. Summer school for second- and fourth-graders -- which the system has found a way to pay for -- will cost $4 million. But the total package of proposals would require a $12 million boost in state spending to city schools.

Morgan will propose to the board that it extend the school day or add a six- or eight-week after-school program for second- and fourth-graders. For those pupils considered at risk of failing, the school system is proposing that a team of teachers and other staff look at the factors that might be contributing to the problem -- including medical or family issues -- and draw up a plan to help the pupil.

Those teams would be tried in parts of the city next year and extended if they work.

Many of the proposals for elementary school are being tested this year in more than a dozen schools, and principals have said they are working. "If you want children to be successful, then you have to set a standard and stick to it," said Elizabeth Turner, principal of Tench Tilghman Elementary School. "Once you do that, then you have to provide all the necessary interventions and support so the youngster is given all the available help. For the most part, we have the ability to put that in place."

Last fall, the school board passed a general policy saying it would put an end to social promotion when programs were in place that would help children who were failing. It agreed to give school administrators a year to develop details of how to set standards and create support for those pupils.

Setting tougher standards could be one of the most debated moves the school board makes in its two-year-old effort to reform city schools. The policy has been a popular move among big urban school districts nationwide, but also one that has backfired in several instances, including Chicago, where thousands of students weren't able to pass after summer school.

Baltimore can learn from the mistakes of others who put policies in place too quickly, Morgan said. "We are trying to do this right."

If the school board adopts the proposals, they would be phased in, often after the ideas are tried in a few schools. The proposals would begin with elementary pupils and continue into the middle and high schools later.

Eighth-graders who don't pass the Maryland Functional Math and Reading tests would have to take summer school to move to ninth grade in 2001. In fall 2001, the school system hopes to begin transitional academies citywide filled with pupils needing remedial help before they move into a normal high school curriculum.

Morgan said her staff will choose two or three high schools to begin those programs this fall.

Administrators also would like to screen incoming ninth-graders to identify those with a history of poor attendance and health, social or academic problems that would make them likely to drop out.

But many teachers believe that some of those pupils wouldn't arrive in high school so far behind if they had been held to high expectations throughout their school careers.

The school board is expected to hold meetings for parents and the public to comment on the proposals.

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