This year, Pinellas County provided students at 28 schools an extra hour or more of instruction each school day. Dubbed "Promise Time," the new program aimed to ramp up the achievement of students from low-income families.
Now, midyear data from Pinellas' latest initiative to lengthen the school day show that Promise Time is helping most students — but not all.
More than 2,300 students signed up for Promise Time in its inaugural year, about 1,100 more than participated in its state-run predecessor. Through a mix of tutoring with teachers and online work, students in schools that receive federal Title 1 funding for low-income children focused on math and reading skills.
According to recent tests, significantly more of these students are performing up to grade-level expectations than at the beginning of the school year.
For example, the percentage of first-graders performing up to speed in math doubled from about 12 to 24 percent. Students across all grades of the K-8 program saw such gains, although they were larger in the younger grades.
When it came to reading, younger students saw similar improvements. But in the sixth and seventh grades, the percentage of students performing at grade level actually decreased from the beginning of the school year. Students in the fourth, fifth and eighth grades stayed level, showing no improvements despite Promise Time.
Isabella Torbert, the program's manager and Pinellas' supervisor of supplemental educational services, said the data wasn't necessarily indicative of these students' true learning.
"Middle school students have a tendency to want to rush on their testing," she said. "If they don't really try, the validity of where it's showing them at isn't as accurate."
Torbert said she was going to dig into the numbers and talk to Promise Time's tutors to figure out what happened.
Promise Time is a partnership between Pinellas County schools and the nonprofit Juvenile Welfare Board, which contributed $650,000 to meet the $943,461 federal dollars Pinellas allocated for the program.
Pinellas is hoping to expand to 42 schools next year, as the school staff says the Juvenile Welfare Board is interested in continuing the partnership.
Contact Lisa Gartner at [email protected] You can follow her on Twitter @lisagartner.