Mar. 20, 2003 – Vol. 22 No. 12

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    Consortium report shows summer program helps narrow learning gap, providing academic boost

    By William Harms
    News Office

    The Chicago Public School’s Summer Bridge program has aided substantial numbers of students to gain promotion to another grade, according to a report from the Consortium on Chicago School Research.

    “We find that summer programs may be a useful intervention for students who are behind,” said Melissa Roderick, Associate Professor in the School of Social Service Administration and lead author of the report, “Ending Social Promotion: Results from Summer Bridge.” The report was co-authored by consortium researchers Mimi Engel and Jenny Nagoaka.

    The Chicago Public Schools initiated Summer Bridge in 1997 as an integral part of a program to end social promotion. More than 21,000 students in third, sixth and eighth grades enroll in Summer Bridge every year, making it one of the largest summer school programs in the country.

    Although the summer program was found to be effective in meeting its goals, the researchers also discovered that students generally fell into old habits once they returned to their regular classrooms. The researchers compared students whose academic achievement was at the level just above the cutoff for required summer instruction with students who were slightly below that level and who had enrolled in Summer Bridge. That comparison showed no major improvements in learning rates among students enrolled in the Summer Bridge program.

    “Despite large test score gains, students in the Summer Bridge group continued to lag slightly behind their peers with similar scores who did not have the benefit of extra instruction in Summer Bridge,” the report said. “It appears that Summer Bridge provides a one-time boost that allowed these students to narrow the gap between themselves and other low-performing students but did not substantially change their subsequent performance in school,” wrote the report authors.

    “The good news is that students tend to react positively to the support and small learning environment provided in Summer Bridge,” said Roderick. “But it’s not surprising that six weeks wasn’t enough to change their status. It’s really hard to expect a six-week program to transform kids.”

    Third- and sixth-grade students attend the programs three hours per day for six weeks while eighth-grade students attend four hours a day for seven weeks. The teachers use a district-proscribed curriculum that contains material geared to the questions asked on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills. Chicago public school teachers taught the classes, which had approximately 16 students in each of them.

    For the study, the consortium researchers looked at the results of instruction during the first four years of the program, from 1997 to 2000. After surveying teachers and students and comparing test scores they found:

    • Between 1997 and 2000, approximately half of the sixth- and eighth-graders required to attend Summer Bridge were promoted, as were 40 percent of the third-graders.

    • Summer Bridge produced learning gains for students at all achievement levels and demographic groups. Third-graders at the highest risk of failure gained the most.

    • In reading, across all three grades, students’ test scores increased almost twice as fast per week during summer as they did during the school year. Mathematics achievement growth was similar.

    • Students were positive about Summer Bridge and appreciated the additional teacher attention the program afforded.

    • Performance was better among classes in high-achieving schools and in those in which teachers knew students.

    • The program is effective because it provided focus on specific subjects while students were motivated to achieve, because Summer Bridge is required for promotion for students falling behind.

    • Although most teachers were effective in using the curriculum, visits and surveys showed that in about 20 to 25 percent of the classrooms, teachers had poor classroom management styles and were unable to use the curriculum effectively.

    In addition to the three primary authors, other researchers working on the report were Brian Jacob, Sophie Degener, Alex Orfei, Susan Stone and Jen Bacon.