The Boy (and Girls) of Summer

By Bruce Buchanan

In California’s Natomas Unified School District -- and across the country -- summer school isn’t what it used to be.

A decade ago, schools in the north Sacramento district essentially offered make up courses in the summer. The classes provided chances for students who were behind to pick up some credits for graduation.

Now, summer school is a far more important tool in the battle to meet academic standards. Natomas officials examine test score data to determine which students most need extra help. They then offer small classes, with a truncated curriculum, designed to help those students get the skills they need to stay afloat.

“Pretty much today, the focus is on trying to assist our most struggling students,” says Superintendent Steve Farrar. “It has changed drastically.”

Like Natomas, districts across the country are turning to summer school, after-school, and even Saturday sessions to help academically struggling students meet testing goals, including federal Adequate Yearly Progress standards. With sanctions -- and, in some states, rewards -- riding on the outcome of those scores, meeting those benchmarks is critical.

Does summer school help districts reach those goals? Most educators say it certainly does. But many also say there still is room to improve how most districts treat summer school.

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