In the 1970s, social scientists started to notice that students from lower socioeconomic circumstances lost ground academically over the summer. In contrast, students from more well-to-do families usually gained ground over those two months. This loss, now referred to as the “summer slide,” is a critical contributor to the achievement gap. Last year, the Norwalk Board of Education funded an expansion of its summer school program in order to minimize or even prevent the slide.
At its November meeting, the board’s Curriculum and Instruction Committee analyzed the effectiveness of the expansion by comparing last year’s end-of-year student assessments with this year’s beginning-of-the year assessments. The committee also compared data from the district’s own summer program with that of the Springboard Collaborative, which ran a different type of program at Kendall and Jefferson schools. (The data is from students in grades three through five.)
Overall, we were pleased with the results. Sixty-five percent of the summer students either stayed the same or increased their score on the fall assessment; only thirty-five percent declined. Interestingly, fifty-one percent of the students who were not required to attend summer school either stayed the same or increased their score in the fall; while forty-nine percent saw their score go down.
The committee plans to dig deeper into the data to determine the reasons some students improved even without summer instruction, while others lost ground despite attending the program. We need to determine if there are major differences among our students in access to the internet, proximity to libraries and other cultural institutions, even the ability to travel, and whether these factors prevent summer learning loss. Much of the earlier data indicates they are indeed factors.
We also compared summer data from students who attended the district-sponsored summer session with data from Kendall and Jefferson schools, which for the first time had an outside agency, Springboard Collaborative, administer the program. Interestingly, the data does not show a statistically significant difference between the two programs.
The committee will soon discuss whether to continue working with Springboard next summer. Some aspects of the Springboard program, such as collaboration with families, may carry over into the regular school year. We plan to compare parental engagement, the attendance records, and the academic performance of the Springboard and district students.
Last summer, students from kindergarten to grade five attended summer school. Next year, we plan to expand the program further by including sixth graders. We also are considering raising the threshold for “mandated” summer school attendance. Currently, only students who score in the bottom twenty percent of standardized tests are required to attend in order to be promoted; next year, we plan to raise the bar to the bottom twenty-five percent. Hopefully, the funding will be in place to implement this much needed expansion.
The committee also examined the English Language Growth Report for the 2017-18 academic year. The report, mandated by the state, is based on the Language Assessment System exam, which measures four skills: speaking, listening, reading and writing. It is not a traditional exam based on grade-related benchmarks; instead, it’s based on a series of growth measures developed by the state. The test will be part of the state accountability report, which measures how well districts are doing in a variety of areas.
The data was positive: Our average scores slightly exceeded those of the state. Moreover, when districts with comparable percentages of English Language Learners were compared, we were among the highest in the state, slightly behind Stamford. We briefly compared the combined oral and literacy scores of our individual schools. The varying numbers of ELL students made it difficult to form any firm conclusions, though several outliers will be looked at by central office staff.
All the district’s programs are funded by taxpayers. We believe it is critically important to monitor these programs, every year – using data – in order to ensure the funds are producing results. Norwalk residents deserve nothing less.
Next month, the committee, which meets in City Hall, 5:30, generally on the third Tuesday of the month, plans to discuss Tracey School’s “Character Curriculum.” Of course, the public is invited.