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More students in summer school this year, and more promoted

Five days before the official start to winter, the Department of Education has finished crunching numbers from summer school — and found that nearly one in five students told to attend shouldn’t have had to.

Of the elementary and middle school students whose test scores were so low that they had to attend summer school, two thirds were promoted in August, according to data the DOE released today.

The numbers also show that thousands more high school students than usual signed up for summer classes when it looked like they wouldn’t have a chance to retake Regents exams in January.

Over 17,000 more high school students enrolled in summer school than in 2010, likely driven by the news that the state had voted to eliminate the January Regents exam administration, often used to retake failed tests required for graduation. The exams were reinstated in August, after the summer session had ended.

Elementary and middle school students have less choice about whether to attend summer school. In those grades, whether a student is promoted depends on his state test scores. But the city doesn’t find out students’ scores until August, when summer school is already over. So every year, the city must predict whether a student is likely to pass the state exam — and tell those who seem likely to fail to register for summer classes.

This year, the city told 34,069 students in grades 3-8 that they should attend summer school — or about 9 percent of all students in those grades. But 6,245 of those students actually passed the tests with a score of 3 or 4.

Of the 27,824 students who failed the tests, two thirds were promoted to the next grade at the end of the summer. A third — 9,122 students — were held back.

It was clear in August, when the test scores were released, that thousands of students had mistakenly been assigned to summer school. At the time, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said students who were mistakenly required to attend summer school only received an extra benefit that they would have been denied if the city had accurately predicted their scores.

“I assure you that summer school was not a waste,” he told GothamSchools. “If we had our way, even more students would benefit from extended learning and additional time in summer school.”

In 2010, after new standards sent test scores plummeting, just 1,800 students were sent to summer school despite passing state tests. But more than 8,000 students who had been told they were in the clear learned they had actually failed the tests. The city promoted the students, even though in a typical year they would have been held back. Half of all summer school attendees were not promoted to the next grade last year — about the same proportion as had been promoted after the 2009 summer session.