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If a state task force has its way, mandatory summer school will be established across New York for students who fall behind academically.

The proposal, designed as a "safety net" to help students meet new high school graduation requirements, would result in a major expansion of summer instruction and affect pupils at all grade levels.

"Sessions should be developed for students in elementary, middle and high school," said the 25-member Safety Net Study Group. "State regulations should specify the conditions under which the state would require summer school."

Charles Stoddart, superintendent of the Orchard Park Central School District, described the proposal as an illustration of the difficulties facing students who aren't able to keep pace with the new state graduation requirements.

"Kids don't all learn at the same rate, yet we expect them to all test at the same rate," Stoddart said. "Throwing mandatory summer school into the mix is not going to help the kid who can't."

Many high school students now take a second crack at courses during summer school, but attendance is voluntary.

In addition, several local school districts encourage students -- some as young as 4 years old -- to attend summer school in order to get their skills up to grade level or to avoid falling behind.

The task force, whose chairman was James A. Kadamus, a deputy commissioner of the state Education Department, said the specifics of the plan would have to be ironed out. However, it said the state should mandate summer school so that students "receive the necessary help in order to move on to the next grade."

The proposal will be discussed by the state Board of Regents in September, and a vote is expected in November.

State Education Commissioner Richard P. Mills, who is spearheading the state's school reform effort, raised several concerns about the proposal.

"Before this recommendation is adopted, we need to have a satisfactory answer to such questions as need, cost and the specific assessments that might trigger remediation," he said.

Gary R. Cooper, superintendent of the Sweet Home Central School District, said he prefers offering extra help to students before and after school, during the school day, on weekends and during spring break.

"It has to be a long-term solution rather than a single shot," he said. "I don't think we can say: 'Here's an option -- you do it.' "

Cooper said roughly 75 percent of Sweet Home students who pass a course during summer school "go right back and do miserably (in the subject) the next year."

Robert Bennett, a member of the Board of Regents and president of the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County, said decisions about summer school should be made by individual school districts, not imposed by the state.

"If it takes summer school to reach the achievement levels we think kids are capable of reaching, that's what we should do," Bennett said. "But I think that's going to happen naturally."

The task force was directed to recommend ways to help students meet regulations that, after a phase-in period, will require them to pass five Regents exams in order to graduate from high school.

The panel also suggested that:

Students who have failed a Regents exam twice be allowed -- under some circumstances -- to gain credit instead by giving oral presentations exhibiting a grasp of the material.

The opportunity be provided for some students to retake only a portion of a Regents exam -- such as the geometry section of a math test -- with which they had difficulty.

Every school district have a policy explaining the promotion of students from one grade to the next.

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