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Online Programs Hope To Increase Student Achievement, Summer Data Promising

Summer is ending for students in Louisville and, according to reports, students return to class in the fall one month behind where they left off in the spring. The loss is even greater for low-income students. To combat summer learning loss, JCPS has invested in two online programs previously offered only to low-performing students. The programs will now be used to boost learning during the school year. Over the summer, students at St. George Community Center’s summer program would read a story and then complete a related activity, like cooking a recipe mentioned in the book, or making a poster about a major theme. Countess Williams said if she wasn’t in the program she likely wouldn’t be reading. “No,” she said laughing. “I’d be on the computer somewhere.” Summer programs like St. George’s are common, offering some academic skill building, and also fun activities. But as school districts struggle with student achievement education professionals are pushing for teachers to do more to build on the lessons that were taught in the previous school year. This summer St. George and several others offered Success Maker and Study Island, two online interactive programs made available through the school district’s summer learning initiative—Every 1 Learns. The programs are interactive, but students have to answer multiple choice questions to advance. When Study Island began in February, the lowest-performing JCPS students—those scoring novice on state tests--were the only students using it, and they were getting around a third of the answers correct, said Rebecca Doyle who oversees the district’s response to interventions. This summer, they're seeing gains, she said. “In looking at the data right now, what we’re seeing, is that those kids are now getting 66 percent of their answers correct so that’s a 31 percent increase in their content knowledge,” Doyle said. Nearly 30,000 students are enrolled in the programs, 5,000 joined in the past couple months when JCPS made the programs available to all students. “Typically what we see is that kids that are novice kids--who are further behind--they make up those skills a lot faster than the student who really is on grade level and the work their doing is at their level, so it’s a little more challenging for them,” said Doyle. The programs are interactive, maybe even a little too cute for some older students, but they respond to individual skill levels. As questions get answered correctly, they get more difficult and a teacher isn't required. That's partly why JCPS was happy to partner with several Learning Places, which are peppered throughout the city, and where employees have been trained on how to assist students in using the program. Online learning is also becoming more popular in the summer. Studies from Johns Hopkinsshow summer vacation can account for up to two-thirds of the achievement gap for low-income students by high school. So while schools need to improve student achievement and summer programs need to add strong academic components, programs like Study Island and Success Maker may make the most financial sense, both to districts and to parents, who may not be able to put their kids in more traditional summer programs. Countess said many of her friends do not attend any summer program, and studies show that only a quarter of parents place their child in a program during summer. “I’d rather be here because I’d stay out of trouble. Because you know how some kids, you get caught up and then you want to do what they do but that’s really not good,” she said. JCPS has spent thousands of dollars for the two programs--for Study Island its $10 per student and over 15,000 have enrolled.  This summer, around 500 teachers were trained to assist in using the program, which they’ll do this fall. Whether program usage means better test scores has yet to be seen, but JCPS officials are confident the investment will pay off. To find a Learning Place for you child click here