The Longview School District’s summer literacy program helped struggling third-graders significantly improve their scores in reading and writing this year — but more than half of the program’s 256 available spaces went unfilled, according to data released last month.
For the 115 students who participated in the program, the average phonics score increased by 23 percent and the average writing score improved 37 percent.
That’s welcome news for a district that has made improving literacy a top priority. About 65 percent of the district’s 540-odd third-graders tested below proficiency in English on the most recent state test.
Invitations for the 15-day program were first sent to the families of students who scored the lowest; the district then sent a second round of invites after parents either declined or failed to respond. Roughly 340 invitations were sent in total.
The district is required to provide intervention programs for third-graders who test below grade level. Research suggests that 75 percent of students who struggle with reading at the end of third grade never catch up and are far more likely to drop out of high school.
This was the first year the district’s summer program focused on a single grade, said Mary Carr-Wilt, the district’s Title I director.
Title I is funding is a source of federal education assistance to local schools that grew out of the War on Poverty in the 1960s.
Carr-Wilt identified several reasons why attendance was thinner compared to previous years, when it served multiple grade levels.
Carr-Wilt noted that Longview schools had five snow days this year, which added an additional week to the school calendar. This was also the first year that students headed back to school before Labor Day, which shortened summer breakby about 10 days total.
This left less time for families to plan vacations around summer school, she said.
Additionally, the program’s third-grade only format complicated childcare options for families with multiple children, Carr-Wilt said.
Students were given a phonics evaluation at the beginning and end of the program to measure their ability to identify word sounds. They also completed two writing exercises, which were evaluated by a small group of literacy specialists.
While scores improved, they also varied widely between classes. In reading, classroom score increases ranged from 11 percent to 38 percent. In writing, one class improved its overall score by 10 percent while a different class achieved a combined 60 percent increase.
That could be because this was also the first year the district adopted a new instructional model, Carr-Wilt said.
The program, which started at 8:30 a.m. and ran until 12:30 p.m., had a space theme this year. Reading activities were also complemented by science experiments and math exercises.
“It had kind of a summer camp feel to it,” Carr-Wilt said.
Teachers read aloud to small groups of students and tried to cultivate an appreciation for reading a book from start to finish.
In the future, variation could be reduced by providing more training for teachers who volunteer for the program to ensure there’s more consistency between classrooms, Carr-Wilt said.
Research suggests that summer school can be crucial for students from low-income families, who are more prone to losing achievement gains they made during the previous school year.
That’s why summer school is so important, Carr-Wilt said.
“It gives kids who maybe were just starting to get concepts an opportunity to cement some of those loose skills,” she said.
Carr-Wilt said she was lamenting the program’s results until consultants who helped developed the literacy materials told her that the program normally lasts six weeks. The district could only finance the program a little over two weeks.
“That’s really quite remarkable,” she said. “One of the reasons to have a summer program is that if kids are just exposed to a skill but it’s not cemented, it’s going to fade away.”