Extra school days working, district says

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Extra school days working, district says

By RACHEL HEATON
rheaton@beaufortgazette.com
843-706-8177

Published Wednesday, September 7, 2011   |  513 Words  |  

Extra days in school seem to be helping struggling students close the gap with their peers on state math and reading tests.

But elementary students who qualify for the extended-learning time program -- which gives students 20 extra days in class -- are still scoring lower on the exams than all students as a whole.

The program is designed for elementary and middle school students who are not meeting grade-level standards in reading and math. The gap between those students and their peers is narrowing though, according to district figures covering the past three years.

Students in the program have made larger gains in reading on state tests than all students did.

In math, extended-learning-time students also have made strides; last year they exceeded the growth of all students in all but three grades -- fifth, sixth and seventh.

Melissa Sheppard, a district academic improvement officer who runs the program, said those are the results she hoped to see.

"We're more interested in seeing if kids are making a gain against where they are than whether or not they're topping out the test," Sheppard said.

The program began in 2008 for grades three through eight and has since expanded down to kindergarten and up to high-schoolers, who attend if they struggle in algebra or English or need to complete credit-recovery programs.

Attendance is mandatory for the 4,500 or so students who are a part of the program every year. The program is held in four week-long sessions. About 75 percent of the children who qualify attended the session in August, Sheppard said.

Several school board members applauded the growth at their meeting Tuesday. Board member Michael Rivers asked how 20 days could have made such a difference, considering students are in school 180 days a year already.

Sheppard said the structure of the day is designed to make an impact -- teachers tailor lessons to help students in specific areas, such as reading comprehension, and students focus exclusively on math or reading skills all day.

The growth can't be definitively traced to the extended-learning time program, Sheppard said.

"Did going to (extended-learning time) help them with academics? We're saying yes, we think that that contributed. Were there other things during the school year that helped? Probably," she said.

The program is funded by federal stimulus dollars and has cost between $2.5 and $2.7 million a school year, district spokesman Jim Foster said. The money will run out this year, though.

Superintendent Valerie Truesdale told the board the district is seeking grant money or other funding sources to continue the program.

Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/HomeroomBft.

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Stimulus money wanes, clock ticking on district's extended learning days; April 23, 2011