Virtual Summer School program paying learning dividends, officials say

  • The Beaufort County School District's first Virtual Summer School program helped students retain knowledge during the summer months, when children typically lose some of the gains made during the school year, the Board of Education learned Tuesday.
  • Sean Alford, the district's instructional services chief, presented the board with a report comparing test scores of students who participated in the program with those who did not.

    Alford showed reading and math scores on the computerized Measures of Academic Progress tests. He compared losses in learning during the summer of 2009 with losses during the summer of 2010 by looking at the percentage of students who scored the same or better when they returned to school in the fall, compared to their performance the previous spring.

    For students in the summer program, the percentage who scored the same or better after summer 2010 increased on 11 of 16 indicators.

    For students who did not participate, the percentage who scored the same or better after summer 2010 increased on only 3 of 16 indicators.

    The voluntary summer program was open to those elementary and middle school students who had access to the Internet. The free program gave students online assignments specific to their skill level for eight weeks over the summer.

    Alford said more than 2,000 students enrolled and about 900 completed all assignments.

    He hopes to increase enrollment next year and will consider decreasing the workload for older students -- about 2 hours per day -- because more than half of the parents surveyed about the program thought that was unrealistic.

    Alford could not provide demographic information for the students who participated this year, but he said the district needs to do more to get students at its most academically challenged schools to sign up.

    Board members said the district must reach out to churches and parent councils to make sure students in low-income communities have access to the program. Often, those students participate in fewer enrichment activities during the summer so their losses in learning are greater, Alford said.

    "We know what the research says," said board chairman Fred Washington Jr. "It says we lose (ground) during the summer. This body wants to take steps, systematically, to change that."