LARGO — About half of Pinellas elementary school students improved their reading skills after attending a first-time summer program for struggling learners, while 47 percent stayed level or lost ground.
Superintendent Michael Grego said Thursday he will make next year's Summer Bridge curriculum more challenging and increase training for teachers so that all students rise as much as they can.
Overall, he said, students improved in math and science, according to tests given at the beginning and end of the program.
"I think we learned from this experience, because if we don't learn from the experience, shame on us," Grego said. "We need to consistently and constantly look at the what and how of the rigor of what we're teaching in the summer."
The six-week, $3.1 million summer program served more than 6,000 students at 27 elementary schools and 15 middle schools throughout Pinellas, seeking to combat the summer learning loss that typically hits poor and minority students the hardest.
Grego said most of the students who did not make learning gains at least retained their skill-set. "They didn't go up — but they didn't go down."
Based on their performance at Summer Bridge, 45 percent of third-graders who would have been held back a year based on their FCAT reading scores were promoted to the fourth grade. That's up 3 percent over last year, when students attended summer reading camps.
Grego said he wasn't expecting the third-grade promotion rate to jump at all, and was pleasantly surprised. He thought he would see results later down the line, after Summer Bridge had been in place for longer.
Literacy among middle school students also increased, although proficiency rates were not high. On questions of punctuation, for example, students got 49 percent of questions correct at the end of Summer Bridge, up from 40 percent at its start. When it came to capitalizing titles and the names of organizations, the percentage of correct answers jumped to 57 from 37 percent.
In the math classes, both elementary and middle school students saw gains. By summer's end, middle school students answered 52 percent of questions correctly, up from 40 percent. The elementary rate increased from 67 to 73 percent.
Science also was a bright spot at Summer Bridge, where 73 percent of students increased their final test scores, when compared with a test given at the start of the summer. About 15 percent of students saw their scores decrease, while 12 percent stayed the same.
Grego acknowledged that six weeks was a limited window to make significant changes. But he did not plan to extend the program next summer, saying that it takes time to hire and train teachers.
He plans to make the curriculum more challenging, so that students who master a level are easily able to move on to tougher concepts.
"I believe there are gifted and talented students in this summer program who haven't blossomed," Grego said. "And given six weeks, it's not the end-all. It's the beginning for some of them."
Contact Lisa Gartner at email@example.com. You can also follow her on Twitter (@lisagartner).