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Winston-Salem Journal: Summer school students score some success

Posted: Tuesday, October 28, 2014 11:00 pm

Arika Herron/Winston-Salem Journal

Despite test scores that fell below expectations, officials with the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools said a summer reading program was successful in helping students improve their reading skills.

Underperforming students in the new summer reading camp gained an average of two months worth of reading skills, according a report presented to the Board of Education Tuesday evening.

The camp was part of the state's new Read to Achieve law, which requires third-graders to demonstrate they can read on grade level before being promoted to the fourth grade. About 700 of the district's third graders failed to do so and were invited to the camp for six weeks of intense reading instruction and another chance to pass the exam. At the end of the summer, just 109 of the 601 students who attended camp and took the test passed.

Superintendent Beverly Emory said Tuesday's report showed that though students did not pass the Read to Achieve exam, they still made important gains.

"You might not have gotten the number of kids you expected from third grad to fourth, but that growth is important," Emory said.

What the results show is that students were so far behind that the growth they made was still not enough to catch up.

Jonathan Hegedus, assistant principal at Kernersville Elementary and program manager for that school's summer camp, said some of the students were a grade level behind or more.

"It takes time to catch up when you're that far behind," he said.

Hegedus said he was thrilled with the growth students achieved over the summer and said that has carried into the new school year. Several of the transitional students at his school who attended the summer camp but didn't pass the end-of-summer Read to Achieve test have since done so.

"They kept the learning going," he said.

Summer camp students received more than just reading skills, said Alesia Hilton, assistant principal at Smith Farm Elementary and program manager at Gibson Elementary's summer camp. Hilton said they gained self-esteem and confidence in their reading ability.

"We wanted them to fall in love with the idea of reading," Hilton said.

She said she saw that happen for her students.

The program gave books to students so they could start to build their own home libraries. Staff also tried to get kids excited about coming to summer school by offering engaging enrichment classes in the afternoon. After three hours of targeted reading instruction each morning, students spent the afternoon taking yoga, drama, cooking, art and other enrichment classes. Jerri Haigler, executive director of the Carolinas region for BELL, the company the district contracted with to run the program, said the program's 87 percent attendance rate was a good sign that students wanted to be there.

An additional 400 students also attended the summer reading camp, though they did not need to. Those were primarily students who had passed their end-of-grade reading test but still struggled with reading.

The entire group of more than 1,000 students averaged one month of reading skills gains over the summer, preventing the "summer slide." Research shows that disadvantaged students - who are disproportionately represented in groups of struggling students - lost an average of two months of learning when they don't have summer learning opportunities.

Emory said the district will be continuing to monitor the progress of summer school students to see if and how those gains continue throughout the school year.

aherron@wsjournal.com (336) 727-4068

@ArikaHerron