City's summer school classes draw 29,000

Majority of students who could be left back attend

14,000 others may face retention

More than 75% enrollment among pupils in grades 1-8

July 14, 2002|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

Motivated by the fear that they might have to repeat a grade, more than three-quarters of the city's failing elementary and middle school children are back in classes this summer.

The school district released its first enrollment figures last week, and those statistics show that despite the large percentage of students who chose to come to summer school, thousands can be expected to repeat a grade starting in September.

Slightly less than half of the city's schoolchildren in first through 12th grades were in danger of failing and were given the opportunity to attend a five-week summer school that is designed to boost skills enough to allow students to pass a test and move on to the next grade.

Chief Academic Officer Cassandra Jones said 29,258 of the 43,360 eligible students have enrolled in summer school. In the elementary grades, 80 percent of the pupils who were eligible to attend are enrolled; in middle school, enrollment is 77 percent.

The lowest participation is in the high schools, where 42 percent of students who failed one or more classes are enrolled. Jones said some of the 13,570 high-schoolers who were eligible for summer school may not need to repeat a class to graduate from high school - they might have had enough credits for a diploma - so there might not have been as strong an incentive to show up. Still, high school enrollment doubled this summer after the district stopped charging for the classes as it had last year.

Carmen V. Russo, the school system's chief executive officer, said she is pleased with the enrollment, particularly in the elementary grades. "I think the parents really need to be commended," she said.

Baltimore's enrollment is higher than in some other large urban school districts across the nation that have tried to end social promotion.

Two summers ago in New York, only 60 percent of students enrolled. And in Boston last year, only half of ninth graders enrolled in a mandatory summer school.

The number of students who actually pass summer school will not be known until next month but if past results are an accurate gauge, about 50 percent of the students who attend can be expected to move on to the next grade.

That would mean that more than 15,000 students would be repeating a grade in the 2002-2003 school year in elementary and middle schools, the largest retention in a decade.

The difference this summer is that the city school board vowed to take a firm stance in ending social promotion. Last fall, the board voted to close loopholes, such as broad discretionary promotion by principals, that allowed students to move up even when they weren't ready academically.

"When you move to such a rigorous promotion policy ... the school system knew this was one of the things it would have to deal with, a high retention rate," Russo said.

Teachers are apparently happy about the stricter promotion policy, she said, because it reduces the time they spend on remediation in their regular classes.

With 1,900 teachers hired to teach summer school, class size has been kept below one teacher per 20 children, better than first anticipated.

The school system also revamped the summer school curriculum and gave teachers four days of training before they began, in hopes of boosting student achievement.

"I am not only feeling good about the numbers, but I feel the teaching experience for children should be better," Russo said.

In addition to those who needed to spend the summer catching up, 4,826 students are in summer school for extra classes or for Superkids Camp, an academic and recreational camp for elementary pupils.

In all, about a third of the city students have attended either remedial summer school or enrichment classes.

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