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Sweet Home's revamped summer school program earned some praise in a recent report to the School Board, but administrators are postponing claims of success until after the first or second marking periods.

Ronald J. Young, assistant superintendent for instruction, said that an evaluation of summer school success depends on participants' academic performance within the regular school year.

The 1998 summer school, which emphasized reading at all levels, included Jump Start prekindergarten classes, Regents review courses, driver education, and course offerings for seniors needing credit to graduate in August.

But the traditional program, which allowed students to repeat failed courses, fell out of favor last year. Officials questioned its effectiveness because many students who passed the summer courses showed little or no academic progress in the following school year.

"That's not true academic success," said Young, noting that this summer the only students repeating courses were the seniors completing graduation requirements.

Over 100 middle school students attended a one-hour per day summer session for each failed course, but they did not repeat the entire curriculum. Instead they concentrated on problem areas and, except for three pupils, passed after demonstrating that they had learned the material.

But the students had to complete one more requirement -- participation in a three-week reading "immersion" program. The course consisted of 55 minutes of "sustained silent reading" in school and another hour at home.

The district also ran a voluntary immersion program of similar length for high school students and 30-day reading courses for at-risk elementary students. Thirty-one high school students participated, and nearly 200 elementary children attended reading or early intervention reading programs.

The high school students, including 22 incoming freshmen, spent 90 minutes per day reading in school and one hour reading at home. They also completed writing assignments. The course was worth one half elective credit, which cannot be used to meet graduation requirements.

Board members regretted that so few 10th through 12th graders chose to participate in the program but were pleased by the feedback. The report said a sizable percentage of pupils say they are now reading better, faster, and for longer periods of time.

Also, all of the high school students, as well as 95 percent of the middle school students, liked the books they were reading, probably because they were allowed to choose what they would read, said Young. Students were given book purchase certificates for use at a local book store.

Young said enjoyment of reading and improvement in reading skills are two indicators of program success. But he said the summer program will also be considered successful if 90 percent of participants earn a passing grade during the first marking period.

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