Harry S. Truman High School

New York

Schools that build summer "bridges" for students pay a price

Ninth-graders at PTECH work on algebra problems in May. On a muggy August afternoon last year, nearly 75 Bronx students could be found playing orchestra instruments to the tune of Duke Ellington's C Jam Blues in the auditorium of M.S. 223. They were gathered to mark the close of three weeks of arts, music, and math instruction they received through the school's first summer "bridge" program. M.S. 223 is one of dozens of city middle and high schools to invite to incoming students for summer classes meant to immerse them in school culture and prevent them from forgetting what they learned the previous year. "Summer bridge is important because we think of our model as a year-round school," said Rashid Davis, principal of Brooklyn's nascent Pathways in Technology Early College High School. "That way we’re not dealing with that summer learning loss than can go from two to four months of material, especially for high-poverty students. We can't expect them to magically come in here with the skills they need." Indeed, researchers have pegged students' regression — known as the "summer slide" — at the equivalent of two months of school or more. City officials recognize the challenge: This summer, the Department of Education is piloting a small program in the South Bronx for students who are struggling but not failing. But the funding for that program, Summer Quest, comes from private donors. Public funds, for the most part, are earmarked only for the thousands of students across the city who are required to attend summer school because of low test scores or poor grades. That means schools that develop programs for incoming students who aren't already in trouble are on their own to scrounge up funding.
New York

Truman's principal starts year by checking middle schools' work

Experience has taught Sana Nasser not to take her incoming ninth-graders' test scores at face value. Nasser is the principal of Harry S. Truman High School, one of the Bronx's few remaining comprehensive high schools. Each fall, she requires new freshmen to take diagnostic exams that test their math and writing skills. The students' results rarely correlate with their scores on the state's eighth-grade reading and math tests, Nasser said. The tests are just one component of Nasser's strategy for helping Truman's teachers to understand their students' needs by the end of the first week of ninth-grade. She also collects reams of data from the city about each student's performance and attendance records and compares them to the diagnostics' results. Nasser said the early efforts have been key to keeping Truman above water even as other large Bronx high schools have struggled to stay afloat with many students entering below grade level. Truman regularly pulls B's on its city progress reports and has a four-year graduation rate that's right around the city average. The school-wide diagnostic exams, which Truman's math and English teachers create, accomplish on a vast scale what many teachers do at the beginning of the year: assess their students' skills, so they don't waste time teaching material that students already know or can't handle. By making the assessments consistent for every incoming student, Nasser said she can get a clearer picture of the class as a whole — how students stack up against each other, and how skill gaps vary by middle school. Some schools, she said, routinely send students whose scores seem to be inflated.