Simplifying Summer School: The Do’s & Don’ts

March 24, 2021

When we think about the goals of summer school, there are a couple of thoughts that come to mind: exposure to next year’s skills, reacclimatizing students to classroom environments, and – the most obvious one – closing any lingering learning gaps before the new school year.

After ten months of curbing the COVID-slide, it might feel natural for your summer curriculum to mimic the same processes you’ve used since the fall. However, gap-closing in summer school is a bit more nuanced. Formal RTI frameworks are just too cumbersome for the short window to get students up to speed. Plus, the data provided by tools like Progress Monitoring isn’t going to be as meaningful for this environment. It makes more sense to let instruction on key skills be the star of the show while more time-consuming processes take a back seat.

Keeping this in mind, what should the focus be for students in summer school? 

The Do’s

  • Screen all students at the beginning
  • Focus on instruction/key skills
  • Measure growth based on unit completion/mastery
  • Utilize dynamic small groups

Closing gaps ultimately starts by identifying them. While there might be end-of-year data that gives an idea of where summer school students are struggling, keep in mind that these students are likely coming from wildly different learning environments, with a number of factors that could have influenced their results – like lack of technology, absenteeism, or even a disability.

For these reasons, it’s always a best practice to go ahead and screen your summer students as soon as they arrive to get a reliable baseline. 

The primary function of assessments during summer school is to reveal exactly what skills your students will need to focus on for the duration of their summer curriculum. Once these missing skills have been uncovered, the race is on to start filling the gaps! 

We know that individualizing content based on assessment results is the best way to address unique learning needs, and having technology that does this automatically can be a saving grace for teachers on a tight timeline. 

Start by identifying the most important skills that students need to master from their current grade level. Then, use your screener data to refine an individual student’s learning progression to meet their needs.

As students begin working, you can use unit mastery data to determine if students are learning the skills that have been identified without wasting valuable instructional time on assessments. In Classworks, there are quick formative checks baked into each lesson that teachers can use to evaluate mastery of a particular skill or domain.

Screener data can also be used to group students based on skill strengths and weaknesses, allowing teachers to tailor their small- and whole-group content with the most relevant skills. Giving students the opportunity to collaborate and work alongside each other should be a critical component of your summertime learning plan. Small group time is a great way to help students (and teachers) dip their toes back into a collaborative environment after a year of remote learning.

See a Sample Screener Report

The Don’ts

  • Get too caught-up in formal RTI processes
  • Worry about weekly Progress Monitoring
  • Stress post-testing

For districts with solid RTI practices in place, it’s a natural reflex to copy the model over to summer school. However, extraneous processes like weekly progress monitoring or emphasizing multiple assessments is a time-sink you’ll want to avoid.

With only a short window to fill in the gaps, it’s important to work smarter – not harder. 

By this point, your students have likely already participated in progress monitoring. It may have even been used as an identifier for summer school. While (bi)weekly progress monitoring is a crucial element of RTI, the data collected is typically used for larger processes not carried out during the summer, like IEP meetings. In most cases, it takes a few weeks before progress monitoring data is even available for teachers to work with, which is not realistic in a summer school environment. Instead, this time is better spent focusing on the critical instruction students need in order for summer school to be successful.

Simply put, It’s not necessary to use valuable instructional time for formal progress monitoring when the screener data can immediately identify the specific areas your students are struggling with.

For a more efficient measure of grade level readiness, teachers are encouraged to track growth and mastery using the tools that are already integrated into the systems being used. For example, teachers can see real-time unit and subject mastery scores for students in Classworks. Or, if the situation calls for it, assign a post test at the end of the summer semester.

See a sample report

Some states mandate that all summer school attendees be given a pre- and post-test. But, for many, this is not the case. Still, there are a number of instances when stakeholders want to know what students’ overall growth during summer was. For example, some districts might use the post-test as a means of determining a student’s promotion into the next grade level. On the other hand, a district might be trying to measure the overall success of their summer learning model. Remember, the screener’s main function is to identify learning gaps, so if summer school is open to all students, you might even administer a post-test to get an idea of what skills should be prioritized during the first semester of the new school year.

Classworks provides tailored summer school support for districts around the country, focused on getting students as prepared as possible for the new school year. To learn more about Classworks for Summer School, use the chat button.

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