District’s online sessions target ‘summer slide’

/ 12 May 2012 / jennifer

Maria Elena Baca, Star Tribune, May 12, 2012 –

Anoka-Hennepin’s pilot program is for sixth-graders.

Anoka-Hennepin educators are determined to put a stopper in summer brain drain.

During the three-month break, students from all achievement levels routinely forget some of what they’ve learned, said Ellen Delaney, the district’s director of secondary curriculum assessment and instruction. The loss is apparent in the results of standardized spring and fall testing.

Starting this summer, the district is setting up a free online learning program for all 600 of its current sixth-graders, with the goal of helping them retain what they’ve learned — or even gain some ground.

The district is using the CompassLearning Odyssey program, which it already employs for tailored instruction during the school year. The program uses students’ test scores to design instruction at their own levels. The hope, Delaney said, is that students will check in online for about an hour a day, from mid-June to late-July.

The idea is that the individualized plans, tailored to the students and to what they know, will address the kids’ learning needs. “It will keep them working toward continuous learning over the summer,” Delaney said.

A teacher from each of the district’s middle schools will monitor the students’ progress and keep in touch by e-mail.

Schools also will be open one day a week for students who don’t have Internet access at home. However, because the program operates in the cloud, they can access it wherever they can get Internet service.

So far, about 100 students have signed up. Registration runs through May 25.

Students who need traditional summer school will continue to get that instruction.

Uses elsewhere

The program is modeled after one first used in Beaufort County Schools in South Carolina, said Mike Geers, a CompassLearning account executive, who has worked with Anoka-Hennepin. It has been picked up elsewhere on the East Coast, and closer to home beginning about six years ago, in Pine City schools.

Pine City High School reading specialist Julie Anderson and math colleague Mary Anderson have administered the program since its start. It’s run a little differently there: The program is aimed at seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders who don’t need remedial summer school, but who could use a boost to get their scores to grade level. Their program also includes a parent orientation and biweekly sessions at school.

“The whole idea is to combat the summer slide,” Julie Anderson said. “If we feel we’re trying to get kids on grade level as fast as possible, this is a way we can help them continue learning over the summer.”

Results vary, but Anderson said she’s had many students maintain knowledge or make gains on their tests.

Although many kids likely feel entitled to their summer goof-off time, Geers said goal-setting can help students understand that a little work can have a real impact on their test scores.

“When kids take ownership over their own education, we’ve changed their whole thinking patterns,” he said.

Besides, Delaney said, kids are drawn to online learning in a way that their parents might not understand.

“It is a medium that kids find attractive,” she said. “Going digital is a method of learning our kids are much more comfortable with and are drawn to more than people our age.”

Since the district already uses CompassLearning, its only expense will be about $12,000 for six teachers’ time.

Ideas about learning are changing, Delaney said.

“You see in other countries that kids are engaged year-round, supported by their parents,” she said. “It would be a great culture to build.”

Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409