Birmingham-area students participating in a target group of learning-enriched summer youth programs gained academic ground this summer instead of losing it, according to the results of assessment testing coordinated by PARCA. National studies have shown that students typically return to school one to three months of school behind where they were at the end of the previous school year. But participants in Summer Adventures in Learning (SAIL) advanced more than a month on average. Some programs helped students jump three to four months ahead.
More than 1,000 students participated in the 19 programs involved in SAIL, a collaborative effort involving summer program hosts, educators and foundation partners. Six local and regional funders – The Belk Foundation, the Daniel Foundation, Mike and Gillian Goodrich Foundation, Independent Presbyterian Church Foundation, the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham and the United Way of Central Alabama – collectively contributed $560,000 to support an enhanced academic component to the usual summer youth programs. The funders also paid for the assessment that gauged each student’s learning level in reading and math when they entered the programs and when they exited. The collaborative also received assistance from Birmingham, Tarrant and the Jefferson County school systems in the assessment process as well, as from the Birmingham Public Library in Five Point South, which provided space and equipment.
The summer slide in academic progress disproportionately affects children from low-income families.
Over the years, the cumulative loss from the summer learning loss can make it hard for students to graduate from high school. SAIL programs work to counter that. And it goes beyond the traditional approach of a single foundation awarding a single grant to a particular program that works to address a particular problem in isolation.
Meeting throughout the year, SAIL brings together the funders, the host programs, and academic enhancement providers to analyze the results of the student assessments and to identify the approaches that produced the best results. The coalition regularly meets and exchanges insights on administrative and educational successes and how they were achieved, as well as discussing obstacles encountered and how they were overcome.
Cheryle Lee, the executive director of New Rising Star Missionary Baptist’s summer program, said SAIL’s approach differs from the typical grant-making process in that it encourages collaboration.
“Normally, when one thinks about grants, you’re thinking about competition, but this is an environment where everyone is open,” she said.
Students participating in the SAIL programs took computer-based tests through the STAR Enterprise Reading and Math Assessments. STAR, which is used by many school systems, offers interactive and responsive tests that evaluate student knowledge and skill level in comparison to national norms
The rigorous assessment helps instructors understand where each child is academically. The STAR system also points to each child’s academic strengths and weaknesses and suggests subject matter and materials that can be used to address deficits.
Gini Williams, the director of the summer learning program at Independent Presbyterian Church’s Children’s Fresh Air Farm, said the tests revealed that many of the children hadn’t been taught how to tell time, a deficit that they were able to address.
She also pointed to one fifth grade girl who, the test revealed, didn’t know multiplication. After some special attention from the teachers, she caught on and by the time she took her post-program assessment she had advanced two entire grade levels in math.
Having this kind of assessment information on students is also important to funders so they can determine whether or not the money they invested is working, said Carol Butler, executive director of the Goodrich Foundation.
IPC Foundation director Jim Wooten said SAIL this year’s assessments provided valuable information but there were challenges in delivering the tests for the first time: a short window of time for training on test delivery, technological limitations and less-than-ideal testing environments at some sites.
“We’re committed to doing it better,” Wooten said.
The first year of assessment has been a learning process, but in the future, the results will help funders steer support to the most successful approaches.
Contact Kathryn Corey to find out more about how you can support the Breakthrough Collaborative or the SAIL partnership and add more students to the group each summer. Or make a gift today toward our Result that focuses on strategies to ensure children are successful along the education pipeline.
(From The PARCA PERSPECTIVE, Reprinted by permission of PARCA)Photo credit: Virginia Jones