For the first time this June, summer school will be mandatory for 1st and 2nd graders whose academic performance is below grade level.

“In the summer of 1996—the first year of 3rd-grade summer school—[we] discovered that some of the children were non-readers,” says Blondean Davis, who oversees summer school programs for CPS. “That’s horrendous.”

In previous years, the voluntary, five-week program—dubbed Early Intervention—enrolled 12,000 1st- and 2nd-graders who were behind their peers in math and reading. As a requirement, the program is expected to draw twice as many children.

The board has enough money to keep Early Intervention classrooms to 15 students, says Davis. But she admits that hiring enough primary teachers from within the system may prove difficult. Typically, CPS uses half of its teachers to fill summer school slots; about 75 percent of its primary teachers would have to sign on to staff Early Interventions, she estimates.

If too few CPS teachers sign up, the board will allow schools to hire teachers from Catholic, suburban or other schools outside the system, Davis adds.

“A lot of the teachers enjoy teaching summer school,” says Jackie Gallagher, spokesperson for the Chicago Teachers Union. “But, there are also a lot who enjoy the ability to travel, get an advanced degree and take classes over the summer. So I wouldn’t say it will be easy, but it’s not impossible.”

Principal Sandra R. Satinover of Jenner Elementary may need to take advantage of the board’s outside hiring option. “I foresee a problem,” she says. “Some teachers have made plans with their families, and some honestly need that time away.”

Beidler Elementary in East Garfield Park is just the opposite. Principal Geraldine Moore expects nearly all of her primary teachers to teach summer school. Teachers see mandatory summer school as a way to keep slow-learners on track academically rather than losing ground over a long summer break. “They like to see growth [in achievement], and they don’t like to see the growth interrupted,” she says.

Teacher discretion

Teachers have discretion over which students must go to summer school. In most schools, 1st- and 2nd-graders do not take standardized tests, such as the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills. “We have a few schools that have used Iowa with the younger children, but we have never mandated that,” Davis says. “We’re not too sure of the validity of the scores. A lot of that [uncertainty] has to do with how the teacher may pose a question to the student, the child’s relationship with the teacher, and their interpretation of what the teacher is saying.”

Instead, the Office of Accountability has provided schools with a series of graded story books and guidelines for scoring youngsters’ performance in reading them. Children who score 12 or higher on the 20-point scale do not have to attend summer school; those who score 9 or below do. For those scoring 10 to 12, teachers may use other factors in making a decision.

At the end of the summer program, students are reassessed to measure any improvements. CPS retention policy does not apply to them.

Not everyone sees mandatory summer school as the best answer for primary students. The system is approaching the problem of low test scores from the wrong perspective, Gallagher says. Instead of helping students catch up, CPS should make sure children don’t fall behind. “One of the reasons [teachers] support pre-kindergarten and programs like Head Start is because the kids come to school prepared. We keep hoping that more students will come prepared and eliminate the need for catch-up programs.”

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