1. The Education Gradebook

Low algebra scores lead to summer 'boot camp' for Pinellas ninth-graders

Pinellas is launching its second new summer program in as many years, targeting hundreds more students atop the thousands already enrolled in summer learning.

Dubbed "Algebra Boot Camp," the six-week summer program will enroll incoming freshmen at each of Pinellas' 17 high schools who are signed up to take Algebra 1 in the fall.

Last year, only 34 percent of ninth-graders passed the algebra end-of-course exam — significantly below the state average of 52 percent. Under state law, students can't graduate without passing Algebra 1.

The new summer program, which aims to enroll 25 students at every high school in its first year, takes a proactive approach to the low pass rate by trying to ensure students are ready for coursework on the first day.

Superintendent Mike Grego said Pinellas has submitted the initiative to the Florida Department of Education, as well as a funding request of "a few million dollars" to help cover the cost.

"They're looking at Pinellas County to have us think about ways to help the rest of the state," said Grego, indicating the boot camp might become a statewide program.

Dwayne Hinds, the executive director of middle school education, described 8 to 11 a.m. days at centers where students will work on computers and with teachers. Students will take assessments to "prescribe a plan for that student," Hinds said. "It's almost personalized, in some ways."

Pinellas will pursue the program regardless of state funding, Hinds said. "It's in the best interest of students and will allow our students to be successful."

The nearly 500 students expected to enroll will have scored a 1 or 2 out of a possible 5 on the math section of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. However, Hinds said, the program is open to all students entering the ninth grade who have yet to take Algebra 1.

Districtwide, the end-of-course exam pass rate for algebra is 50 percent, lifted by a 96 percent pass rate among seventh-graders and a 91 percent pass rate among eighth-graders.

While the ninth-grade pass rate is low, students who attempt the end-of-course exam in 10th grade are even less successful, with a pass rate of 19 percent, according to district numbers. (The state puts the 10th-grade pass rate at 25 percent.)

Hinds said he is working closely with principals and expects they'll receive lists of students to target for the programs in the next few days.

The district already has registered more than 5,000 students for Summer Bridge, an initiative launched by Grego last year to curb summer learning loss.

Pam Moore, associate superintendent of teaching and learning, said the head count was on target for Summer Bridge, which had more than 6,000 students show up last year.

"For this time of the year, that's a really encouraging number, and we're going to massively hit schools after FCAT with advertising and letters," Moore said.

About 3,600 of the registered Summer Bridge students are in elementary grades.