Extended Summer Program Boosts Student Skills

November 11, 2002
Students who attended most, if not all, of last summer's four-week program known as Extended Learning Opportunities (ELO) achieved, on average, higher levels of skill development in reading and mathematics in the first month of Grades 1, 2, and 3 this year, than did their classmates who did not attend the program, according to a new study by the Office of Shared Accountability released today [Monday, November 11].

The boost in skill development was identified through comparisons of June and September measurements designed to determine the effects of a summer program that focused primarily on accelerated and enriched instruction, not remediation, in preparing children for the next grade. [The study is available on the web at the link below.]

The voluntary program, which specifically avoided requirements for compulsory attendance or links to grade-level promotion, also registered 73 percent of the students from the 18 targeted elementary schools. The schools receive federal Title I funding because of high levels of student poverty.

“These findings -- along with high levels of parent and teacher satisfaction -- underscore the importance of addressing the needs of our most challenged students with programs that are designed to extend the instructional program beyond the traditional school year,” said Dr. Jerry D. Weast, superintendent of schools, in a report to the Board of Education. “This is particularly true among children who are entering the pivotal grades of early childhood education, in which the attainment of fundamental reading and mathematics skills are critical to their immediate and long-term success as students.”

The new study describes the academic benefits as “promising.” Additional study will be conducted to determine if the academic benefits are sustained throughout the current school year. An analysis of student performance on the Maryland state assessments to be taken in Grades 2 and 3 this spring also will be conducted to determine any potentially sustained academic effects of the summer initiative.

In mathematics, the results showed modest, statistically significant benefits for first, second, and third grade students who attended all four weeks of the program. With the exception of Grade 2 results, the mathematics benefits were apparent across all levels of academic need.

In reading, there were modest statistically significant benefits for students in Grades 1 and 2. (Grade 3 reading was not included in the study because of the absence of an appropriate assessment for this grade level and subject.)

The benefits in all grades were similar across all ethnic groups.

Aside from the academic benefits, the initiative also achieved the goal of recruiting qualified teachers for a summer program. The ELO teachers were very similar to other teachers in the 18-school service area in terms of training and teaching experience. Teachers, especially those with more years of teaching experience, expressed satisfaction with the initiative. In particular, the majority of the participating teachers gave high ratings to the professional development and teacher training components of the program.

Moreover, parents expressed strong support for the summer initiative. Survey results of parent satisfaction from a relatively small sample of respondents indicated overwhelming positive approval, and the majority indicated that they would enroll their child again next year.

The attendance areas of the targeted schools serve the highest concentration of poverty and English language learners in the school system. The majority of the participating students were Hispanic (55 percent), followed by African American (25 percent), Asian American (10 percent), and white (9 percent).

More than three-quarters of the students (76 percent) were participants in either the Free and Reduced-price Meals System (FARMS) or the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program. Forty-one percent were only in FARMS, while 30 percent were in both FARMS and ESOL programs. Five percent were just in ESOL.

The ELO program last summer enrolled 4,328 students, representing 73 percent of the children enrolled in kindergarten through Grade 3 in the 18 federally funded Title I schools. Of these students, 60 percent attended at least 16 days of the 20-day schedule of morning classes and achieved the most benefit. (Of the rest, 21 percent attended six to 15 days. The remaining 19 percent attended either one to five days or not at all, forming a group that registered for the program but essentially gained little or no benefit.)

“The results of the study support the use of Title I funds for programs aimed at prevention and early intervention, rather than just remediation of academic skills,” said Dr. Weast. “The main benefit is the approach undertaken by principals, teachers, and central office staff in providing additional learning time for students.”

The superintendent emphasized that the instructional link from one grade to the next, with the same curricular emphasis and components, contributed “to both the program's success and its attractiveness to parents and students.”

Dr. Weast also said there are areas that need to be improved, “particularly in securing greater daily attendance for the entire four weeks, since the greatest benefit occurred for those students who attended 16 or more days.” He said that earlier planning and recruitment, along with expanding the program to include afternoon activities, may help improve attendance, especially among families with child care and other concerns.

External researchers from Yale University's Child Study Center and the Howard University's Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed At Risk conducted independent reviews of the school system's study. The reviews produced insights and recommendations for continued improvement. The involvement of external independent reviewers will be maintained as the school system continues to develop groundbreaking research in this area.

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