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6 weeks of summer school was too much for NC teachers and students, state report says

 U.S. Rep. Alma Adams and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona (left) visited a Camp CMS summer school at Paw Creek Elementary in July.
Ann Doss Helms
U.S. Rep. Alma Adams and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona (left) visited a Camp CMS summer school at Paw Creek Elementary in July.

Last summer’s massive push to help North Carolina students make up for lost pandemic learning brought some benefits, a new state report says. But a state official told the Board of Education Wednesday that the six-week stretch made it hard to staff classrooms and attract students.

“We heard from districts across the state (that) the 150 hours was very difficult to meet, said Michael Maher, head of the state’s Office of Learning Recovery. “Many felt that they could capture really good summer learning programs in three weeks.”

Even before 2021 test scores landed it was clear a lot of students were going to need help making up for time lost during last year’s pandemic disruption. So the General Assembly required all districts to offer 150 hours of summer school, or roughly six weeks, with federal COVID-19 aid covering costs. Attendance for students was optional.

Lawmakers required the Department of Public Instruction to track results. That report, which will be forwarded to the General Assembly after Board of Education approval, says almost 466,000 students were identified as at-risk, and only 213,500 of them, or about 46%, enrolled in summer school. Some additional students who didn’t have the at-risk label also enrolled, bringing the total to almost 248,000.

Maher told the board that many of the students who enrolled didn’t stay for all six weeks.

“There were of course issues with vacations having been planned, or camps and sports, other things that happened in the summer,” he said. “Some parents had COVID safety concerns, which I think many of us did last summer. Some felt their students needed a break. There were summer jobs. There was lack of student interest. Some families didn’t see value.”

Maher said it also proved difficult for most districts to meet the state’s goal of signing teachers on for all six weeks, even with recruitment bonuses. Instead, many districts ended up patching together staffing week by week, sometimes relying on assistants, retirees and college students.

“There were lots of challenges getting people to commit to a full six-week program after having done a year of remote instruction and then in-person instruction and in some instances remote and in-person simultaneously,” he said.

The academic results were mixed. About 58% of students scored better on reading and math tests given at the end of the session than they did at the beginning. But many students missed one or both tests so weren’t part of that data — and some who were included missed weeks in the middle.

More than 95% of elementary and middle school students who participated were promoted, the report says. For high school it was about 80%.

Across the state high school students earned more than 12,000 credits through programs that let them get through courses with a combination of testing and individualized instruction. The success rate for seniors who needed credits to graduate was 97%.

The General Assembly has set aside $66 million for summer programs in 2022. “Bridge academies” for rising kindergarten, sixth- and ninth-graders will offer at least 50 hours of programming, or roughly two weeks. Career-themed programs will be offered for at-risk students in grades 6-12.

Copyright 2022 WFAE

Ann Doss Helms covers education for WFAE. She was a reporter for The Charlotte Observer for 32 years, including 16 years on the education beat. She has repeatedly won first place in education reporting from the North Carolina Press Association and won the 2015 Associated Press Senator Sam Open Government Award for reporting on charter school salaries.
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