LAUSD summer school had better teaching, higher grades and 758 graduates in August
Mike Szymanski | September 16, 2016
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Innovative summer school practices are credited with helping 758 students graduate through a credit recovery program, and grades were significantly higher as LA Unified went out of its way to increase the quality of the teachers giving the summer school instruction.
“We are emphatically keeping high standards for summer school like we do during the school year,” said Beyond the Bell administrator Betsy Castillo, giving the summer school report to the Curriculum, Instruction and Educational Equity Committee this week. In the past, any teacher with any credential could teach summer school, but for this year, Castillo said, “We were emphatic about the quality and caliber of instruction and that summer school should not have lower standards for anyone involved.”
Principals were asked to hire appropriate teachers for the courses with “a deep knowledge which is as necessary for summer as it is for fall,” she added.
This summer 71 high schools offered 2,749 classes and 174 online classes for 119 different types of courses. Of the 31,729 students taking summer school, 758 were for credit recovery in order to graduate in August and be part of the estimated record 75 percent graduation rate for the district. But 15 percent taking the summer classes still got D’s or F’s, and the school board members on the committee expressed concern for them.
There were 45,454 grades issued and 1,650 teachers employed over the summer, according to Castillo.
Because most of the students were in for credit recovery, the courses with the highest enrollment were algebra and English classes. Castillo said most of the students are in summer school to re-take classes to get a better grade, but some of them are also adding to their credits by taking extra classes, or taking fun courses such as art or drama.
School board President Steve Zimmer noted that the grades were far better than during the rest of the year and suggested it was because the students only took two classes rather than six at a time.
“I just want to note the significantly higher grades and that when we do intervention we look at how we do this,” Zimmer said.
Chief Academic Officer Frances Gipson pointed out that many of the students were taking classes for a second time and therefore were getting a better grade, but she said holding longer classes over a shorter time period may have helped.
Another plus for summer school was starting classes for the first time at 9 a.m. when students were more alert, engaged and ready to learn, but Castillo pointed out that tardiness among both teachers and students was about the same as when classes started earlier.
“Research does show the benefits of extra sleeping time in the morning, and I can tell you the student surveys showed that they were thrilled and very appreciative with the later start time,” Castillo said.
She said she visited more than 300 classrooms to observe classes and said, “In the past, I saw students asleep in class and was very disheartened and this year not one student was asleep and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. They were rested and there was sufficient time to eat breakfast.”
Committee chair Richard Vladovic pointed out that the Seattle school district is testing out later start times and he has suggested that Superintendent Michelle King monitor their process.
“We may want to consider a late start for each day of school,” Vladovic said. “I would like to take a look at doing that if it makes a difference for kids getting there.”
Other new elements the district added to summer school this year were a case manager at each school and a teacher leader position to help teachers and students deal with two-and-a-half-hour classes presented in an accelerated time frame. The teachers were also given a four-hour online professional development course and common planning time to encourage working together.
Some teachers worked at schools they were new to and they developed more team efforts on campuses this past summer, Castillo said.
The schools also offered at least two non-core courses at every site, so it didn’t seem like summer school was all remedial and can be fun too, Castillo said. In the past summer school was called “credit recovery” and now they call it “summer term.”
Board member Scott Schmerelson was concerned about those who didn’t make it through. “What about the 573 souls who came to the class and still failed?” he asked. Castillo said those students generally dropped out and staff members are following up with helping them in the future.
“We feel overall it was a successful summer school and we are thinking about ways for improvement for next year,” Castillo said.