Aug 23, 2021 - News

Des Moines suburbs see mix of summer school participation

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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

This year saw a heavy push for summer school as educators try to help students make up learning losses from the pandemic. But participation in these programs varied in the Des Moines metro's suburban school districts.

State of play: Many offered new or expanded programming this summer thanks to an influx of federal funding, though some saw less than half of recommended students attend.

Why it matters: Students are flagged for these programs based on their test scores and whether their teachers believe they could benefit from the extra attention.

  • In Iowa and across the U.S., student test scores in reading and math saw a sharp decline because of the pandemic, particularly among Black, Latino and low-income students. But more recently they've been ticking back up.

Here in the metro, Johnston and Urbandale's districts saw under 50% participation rates for summer school among the elementary students recommended to attend — 44% and 35% respectively.

  • Ankeny, which invited fewer students to summer school, saw a 95% participation rate in its elementary and middle schools. It dropped to 57% at the high school level.
  • West Des Moines didn't provide data, and Waukee didn't hold summer school.

Between the lines: Attending summer school is voluntary, and families may face barriers to attend, such as transportation or work obligations.

  • Some may just choose not to participate or have other summer plans.

The bottom line: While summer school can give students a nice boost a few weeks before classes start, that doesn't mean they won't get extra help, said Laura Sprague, a spokesperson for Johnston schools.

  • With the school year starting this week, many districts have already identified students for remedial help. What that might look like will depend on each school.

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