Price is packed with students, Andersen a quiet place

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At the start of summer school, Suzanne Dunaway, principal of Hans Christian Andersen Elementary School in Wicker Park, was nervous about her 8th-graders. Many had scored well enough on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills to graduate, but they failed to do their class work. Would summer be an instant replay of the school year? Dunaway wondered.

“It’s not that they can’t do the work,” she said. “It’s will they do the work?”

Indeed, the majority of 8th-graders in this year’s citywide Summer Bridge program fell into this category. Even so, they were put in the same classes as students who did not score high enough on the tests. As a result, they received instruction in skills they already had mastered.

“The idea is to … give them some direction,” Dunaway explained.

Citywide, more than 16,000 students, a little over half the 3rd-, 6th- and 8th-graders in Summer Bridge, were in summer classes because they failed courses during the school year. Their job was to show up and do the assigned work. If they did that and maintained a C average, they were promoted.

The 12,961 students who landed in Summer Bridge because they fell short on the Iowa tests had to pick up the reading and math skills they didn’t master during the regular school year and strive to pass the summer Iowas. Under certain circumstances, they could be promoted even if they again fell short of the board’s target scores—a board policy approved a year ago allows for consideration of grades, attendance and teacher evaluation when students are no more than eight months shy of the targets.

Dunaway didn’t have to worry at all about her 3rd-graders. For the first time, the school didn’t have enough poorly performing 3rd-graders to make up a Summer Bridge class; the handful of students who didn’t score high enough to be promoted went to nearby elementary schools for summer classes. Anderson’s summer school total, including a handful of students in enrichment programs, was only 204, making it a quiet place.

In contrast, summer school took over Florence B. Price Elementary School in Bronzeville. A total of 339 students were enrolled, including 88 8th- and 9th-graders from nearby Dyett School. Hallways were constantly abuzz with students and teachers and tutors and volunteers and anyone else Principal Carl Lawson invited into the school.

Lawson prides himself on his big-tent approach to summer school, encouraging students who had been promoted to serve as tutors or teacher aides. Many did, and on any given day, a classroom of a dozen students could have had five or six student helpers.

Price had 36 3rd-graders in Summer Bridge; most had failed to pass the Iowas. But it had fewer 8th-graders than Andersen did—14 compared to 27.

While Price and Andersen were, in some ways, on opposite ends of the summer school scale, they also shared a couple of key characteristics. Sweltering classrooms was one. Another was teacher complaints about the board-mandated curriculum for remedial programs. “This isn’t designed to remediate anybody,” said Michael Flynn, an 8th-grade reading teacher at Andersen this summer.

June 18-25

Monday, June 18

The calm before the storm

Price Principal Carl Lawson gathers 16 teachers and six staffers into the cafeteria at 8:30 a.m. for a pre-summer school pep talk. Classes start tomorrow.

“Patience is probably the most important thing,” he tells them. “You’ll be dealing with students who don’t want to be here.”

Lawson notes that the teachers will have some extra help from university students who have been hired by CPS as tutors. He then polls the room to find out if coffee should be prepared every morning. Teachers’ overwhelming response: “Yes.”

He reminds them that there are no field trips. Also, if teachers want to take their students for a walk around school grounds, they must keep them together, he says.

“Good luck and have a great summer,” he concludes.

Later in the afternoon at Andersen, hallways are quiet and empty, save for a security guard seated at a desk by the front entrance, positioned so he can keep an eye on both the school’s main hallway to his right and the entry straight ahead. Principal Suzanne Dunaway is in her office examining class rosters and making sure she’s prepared for any last-minute crises. Just then, teacher Michael Flynn pops in to tell Dunaway he doesn’t have enough reading workbooks for his 8th-grade class.

Dunaway immediately hits the phone, trying to get Flynn more workbooks. “My assistant principal, who’s the summer school coordinator, is on vacation this week,” says a distracted Dunaway.

Tuesday, June 19

“We will meet these goals”

On this, the first day of summer school, Andersen teacher Rebecca Gipson has a rhetorical question for her 8th-grade math class. “We have two goals this summer. Anyone want to guess what they are?”

As one student quietly answers “pass,” Gipson continues. “Number one for some of you is to graduate in August. That means you need the Iowa scores. Number two is class work. Some need class work to leave because they neglected to do the work during the year.”

“We will meet these goals,” Gipson says.

Nathan Martinez and Abraham Franco are two of the students who need the class work. Both failed reading and math classes during the school year. Nathan says he failed because he tested into a higher level class than he had in previous years and the work was too difficult.

Abraham has a different reason. “I knew how to do the work,” he says. “I would do it and leave it at home. That was a problem.”

This summer, Nathan and Abraham must attend class regularly, complete all of their assignments and get a grade no lower than a—to move on to high school.

Wednesday, June 20

Second year in summer school

Price teacher Lestine Vines’ 3rd-grade classroom is crowded. Along with the 13 students who showed up—16 are on her class roster—she has five tutors, four of them upper-grade Price students and the fifth a university student, one of six CPS-funded tutors working at the school this summer.

Vines’ lesson today is straight out of the School Board’s 3rd-grade Bridge reading comprehension workbook. Students read a short passage on African elephants, then must recall certain facts. How much does the elephant weigh? What does it eat?

Vines moves around the room asking questions, tossing in a bit of math as well. “If the male elephant weighs 6 tons and the female weighs 4 tons, how many more tons does the male weigh?” she asks. “Two,” says 9-year-old Rozelle Milton. “Good. Very good,” says Vines.

During the regular school year, Vines teaches 5th grade. This is her second year teaching 3rd-graders in summer school. “If I can keep up the pace, 85 percent will pass—if they come every day,” she says. Last year, most of her 3rd-graders attended class regularly, and nine out of 12 moved on to 4th grade.

Brandi McCambry, 10, is one of the three who didn’t. She’s back in Vines’ summer school class for a second year, and she’s off to a shaky start. Vines singles her out for talking during the lesson, her voice switching from breezy to stern: “I’m not here to play, I’m here to help you.” Brandi says nothing.

Vines is at a loss over how to help Brandi. In only six weeks, she has to do what another teacher couldn’t do in 10 months. She uses the board’s curriculum, but wishes she had supplemental materials—additional 3rd-grade storybooks, for instance—to help Brandi and other struggling students. “I’ll do the best I can.”

Monday, June 25

Success for Some

Early Intervention is the board’s attempt to help struggling 1st- and 2nd-graders before they are subject to high-stakes testing in 3rd grade. Classes are held four days a week for five weeks; in Bridge, students attend five days a week for six weeks.

Early Intervention started last year. Even so, 3rd-grade test scores dropped this spring, a sign that the program wasn’t enough for many 2nd-graders.

Today, the 1st-graders in Mark Wigler’s steamy classroom at Andersen simply want to draw in their workbooks. Andersen does not require summer school students to wear uniforms, but the 1st-graders have adopted a uniform of their own, T-shirts, shorts and sandals. Wigler follows suit. His T-shirt, emblazoned “Success For All,” is as much a choice for comfort as a declaration.

Success For All is a well-regarded, structured reading program developed by researchers at Johns Hopkins University. The program is geared toward early reading development and centers on 90 minutes of uninterrupted daily reading instruction.

Before joining Andersen as a kindergarten teacher last year, Wigler spent a year as a Success For All trainer on the East Coast. He was introduced to the curriculum model in 1995 as a teacher at Reed Elementary in Englewood.

Andersen began using Success for All about the same time, says Dunaway. Since then, the school’s test scores have improved dramatically. In 1996, only 17 percent of Andersen students scored at or above national norms on the Iowa reading test. By 2001, 35 percent were scoring at or above national norms.

“The program does work,” says Wigler. Twenty-two of his 24 kindergartners ended the year reading above a 1st-grade level, he says.

But Wigler is not allowed to use Success For All’s reading strategies in summer school. The board requires summer school teachers to follow its mandated curriculum. “I do not, at this point, particularly care for it,” Wigler says.

Upstairs, in a second-floor classroom, Michael Flynn is not satisfied with the School Board’s summer curriculum either. Yet, in fitting irony, he has had to photocopy pages from the lone reading workbook he has because the school did not get enough books to distribute to students. (Additional workbooks arrive at Andersen the next day, a week after classes started.)

During the regular school year, Flynn teaches 5th-graders at Otis Elementary and often goes beyond traditional strategies to teach reading. He will invite local newscasters and journalists to read stories to the class. Or he’ll take students on a field trip to a nearby cemetery to see the graves of people they’re studying.

Teaching 8th-graders this summer at Andersen is his way of sharpening his teaching skills. “You can get isolated at one school and wonder if you can relate to all kids,” he says.

Flynn wants to keep students on their toes. Today they are getting practice in answering questions fast. Speed is important, says Flynn, because quickness will count when they retake the Iowa tests at the end of July.

Students read a comic book story and then have 10 minutes to answer 12 questions that Flynn has written on the board. “I want complete sentences,” he says. “This should be easy for you. Some of these [questions] are gimmes.”

“I’m opposed to the way the board does summer school,” Flynn says. “All you’re doing is getting kids to retrieve information.”

Test-taking strategies he must teach include teaching students how to recognize wrong answers. “If the underlined word is negative, you can rule out all positive answer choices,” according to a test prep workbook.

“It’s not teaching right answers,” Flynn notes.

June 29 – July 23

Friday, June 29

Teacher sweetens the pot

For the past week, Vines has been using carrots and sticks, or rather, candy and sticks, to motivate her 3rd-graders at Price. If they complete all of their assignments, they will get a bag of goodies at week’s end.

This morning, Vines is asking students about a story they were supposed to have read for homework. What was the most important point? she asks. Some have an answer when Vines calls on them, others return her question with a blank stare.

“If you spend 15, 20, 30 minutes a day reading, you’ll do well,” Vines admonishes. “If you go home and do nothing, you’ll stay in 3rd grade.”

Vines continues the lesson, which calls for the students to take a short test on the story being discussed. While the students are busy taking the test, Vines unveils a mountain of goodies stacked on a cluttered desk. Cheese curls, candy bars, sweet rolls, lollipops, cotton candy and three enormous jars of pickles.

She takes a quick survey of the room to find out which students completed all of the homework assignments. Only five raise their hands. Brandi is not one of them. Vines says Brandi did not turn in homework last summer either.

Vines tells the tutor and the student volunteers to decide which students deserve to share in the bounty of sweets. The tutor and the volunteers step into the hallway for several minutes while the students sit silently in the classroom.

The jurors return swiftly with a verdict: “Only the [students] who did all of their work will get the treats,” says tutor Joseph Stovall.

Stovall, a 21-year-old education major at Allen University in South Carolina, offers a promise to those who missed out. “Next week, if you others do your work, then you’ll get treats,” he says.

The volunteers hand out brown paper bags stuffed with goodies to the five students who completed their assignments. The other students look on, some calmly, a few visibly upset. “The other kids will absolutely do their work next week,” Vines says later.

The following week more students—though not all—complete their assignments.

Brandi is among them. This time Vines asks each student if they think they deserve treats. Some say “no,” explaining that they didn’t finish their work. Still, Vines, feeling generous, doles out goodies to everyone.

Thursday, July 5

Following directions

Today, Flynn continues drilling his 8th-graders at Andersen. The task: Write a sentence for each of the vocabulary words written on the board.

Student Nathan Martinez begins writing definitions instead. Flynn, who is meandering around the room, does not catch Nathan’s error until he and the rest of the class are finishing up. “You didn’t follow the directions,” Flynn says.

Nathan smiles and laughs. Flynn takes away Nathan’s answer sheet and instructs him to complete the assignment for homework. “Nathan, it would be a Shakespearean tragedy if you had all this ability and I had to fail you,” Flynn threatens.

Nathan smiles and laughs again, but later he says he is annoyed by Flynn’s badgering. “I don’t like him [but] I know I can do the work,” he says.

Wednesday, July 11

Things get serious

Nathan is making more headway in math. He and his pal Abraham Franco usually finish their in-class assignment before the rest of the class, says teacher Rebecca Gipson. So she has them studying pre-Algebra. “They’ve been working on it fairly diligently,” she says.

So far, Nathan and Abraham have perfect attendance and, for the most part, they’ve been doing their work, say their two teachers. But the clock is ticking for those who have to retake the Iowa tests.

Today, Gipson’s math class reflects the get-serious atmosphere at the school. Desks that previously had been loosely arranged in small groups are now lined up in five even rows facing the front of the room. Students are hunched over their workbooks, concentrating on a word problem.

Test prep has kicked into high gear. Gipson describes it as a necessary evil. “It’s too bad the test is weighted so heavily, but the Bridge workbook is totally geared toward taking the test and passing,” she says.

Thursday, July 19

Practice, practice, practice

At Price, Lestine Vines’ 3rd-graders are busy with a practice test. Vines has managed to get her hands on some old Iowa test prep books to supplement those she got from the School Board. Her students will take the math portion of the Iowa test on Monday and the reading portion on Tuesday.

Monday, July 23

Heat wave

It’s the hottest day of summer school so far, and the third floor of Price School is an oven. Lestine Vines’ 3rd-graders are taking the math portion of the Iowa test today.

Joanne Owens, Price’s summer school coordinator, told teachers they could stretch the test out over three days rather than two if they believed the heat was a problem. Vines opts to test the children over the standard two-day period, with roughly an hour of testing each day.

Down the hall, Maeneica Fowlkes-Ringer’s 8th-graders are preparing for their exam the following Monday. The shades in Ringer’s classroom are drawn, and the lights are off. Boxes of books fill the back of the classroom. There are two fans blowing, but neither circulates the stale air.

Each school day, Ringer has her students read through the morning newspaper and write a summary of one article. “I used it last year. It helps with their summarizing skills,” she says.

Ringer has brought other supplemental reading materials to help prepare students for the test. They include shorter stories than those in the Summer Bridge workbook. “I found that it helps them more than concentrating on longer stories, when they can get bored,” she says.

In addition, she gives her kids a short quiz every day to keep their testing skills sharp. She says she won’t do anything special before next week’s test, just continue to emphasize the routine the kids are in.

July 26 – Aug. 7

Thursday, July 26

Test scores arrive

Iowa test results for 3rd- and 6th-graders arrive today.

For Price’s 3rd-graders, the numbers are relatively good news. Nineteen of the 25 students who took the exams passed, including nine out of 12 in Lestine Vines’ class. Some, such as 9-year-old Marcell Guyton, made significant gains. Marcell’s reading score went from a 2.7 to a 3.6, according to Vines, taking him well past the cut score of 3.0.

Brandi McCambry, however, was not one of the nine students. The day after the exam, before the scores came back, Brandi admitted she had a hard time understanding the reading portion of the test. “We had to read all the paragraphs and do all the answers, and I didn’t know what they were,” she said. Brandi was not confident she had done well.

Her scores indicate that she’s at a 2nd-grade level, two grades behind where she should be. Her younger sister Monique, who is in the other 3rd-grade Summer Bridge class at Price, passed and will move on to 4th grade.

Joanne Owens says that Brandi will be moved to 4th grade but spend most of her day with a tutor in a classroom with a handful of other struggling students. First though, Brandi will be tested for health problems and learning disabilities if her parents consent, says Owens.

Citywide, 51 percent of the 4,607 3rd-graders who took the Iowa tests were promoted because they either achieved the new higher cut scores (3.0, or the beginning of 3rd grade), or because they scored within the eight-month range and had the grades, attendance and teacher recommendation to move on, according to the School Board. At press time, the board said it could not provide a breakdown between these two groups.

In total, 71 percent of the 11,349 3rd-graders in Summer Bridge were promoted, including 5,708 3rd-graders who needed only to complete their class work.

At the 6th-grade level, the news for both Andersen and Price is not as good. Four of the seven 6th-graders at Andersen failed to meet the higher cut scores (6.0, or the beginning of 6th grade) or the eight-month range. One student from nearby Pritzer Elementary fell 0.1 percent short on the math test, says Dunaway. In a case like that, she says, parents can write a letter to the region office, requesting a review.

At Price, six of the eight 6th-graders who took the Iowa tests failed, according to summer coordinator Joanne Owens.

In contrast, more than 60 percent of the 3,962 6th-graders who took the Iowa tests citywide met either the new test-score standard or fell into the eight-month range. Over all, more than 80 percent of the 9,905 6th-graders in Summer Bridge were promoted, including 5,562 who needed to complete their class work.

Tuesday, July 31

Game time

An hour after the 8th-graders at Andersen took their test, they’re playing board games.

The School Board’s Summer Bridge workbook has lesson plans for only 30 days, says Michael Flynn, leaving teachers and students three days with nothing to do before graduation. Flynn says he thought about trying to do something but realized the effort would have been futile. So the handful of 8th-graders at Andersen are playing Life, Sorry, and Scrabble in an un-air-conditioned classroom, killing time before their release at 12:30.

Tuesday, Aug. 7

Summer graduation

Today is the graduation ceremony for the 8th-grade summer school students.

All eight of the Price 8th-graders who took the summer Iowa tests, passed, according to principal Lawson. The six 8th-graders who needed only class work and good attendance also were promoted, he says. At Andersen, only two of the five 8th-graders who took the Iowa tests passed, according to Dunaway. “We never have more than one or two fail each year,” she says. “I don’t ever remember three coming back.”

All three are Hispanic children who had problems with reading, according to Dunaway. In each case, the student’s math score was high enough to pass but the reading score was more than eight months below the target. The parents of one student are seeking a waiver, she says.

Citywide, 56 percent of the 4,392 8th-graders who took the Iowa tests met the higher cut scores (8.0, or the beginning of 8th grade), or scored within the eight-month range, according to CPS. Over all, 72 percent of the 7,788 students in 8th-grade Summer Bridge were promoted, including 3,130 who needed to complete their class work. Nathan and Abraham at Andersen were among those students.

Despite the scorching heat, families and friends fill the Steinmetz High School auditorium to watch the Region 2 graduates get their 8th-grade diplomas. Nathan and Abraham, clad in black gowns and mortarboards, are jostling each other in the line outside the auditorium. Dunaway quickly puts an end to the horseplay and marches them into the auditorium with their classmates. After the ceremony, Nathan finds his mom, Ida Martinez, who has some words of advice. “I told him to pick his friends right and stop clowning around,” she says. “We don’t want to do this again next year.”