District Launches Intensive Catch-Up Program for Elementary and Middle School Students. (News Connection: Up-to-Date and Usable Education Information Froms Schools, Government, Business, Research and Professional Organizations)

Article excerpt

In what is considered one of the most extensive programs of its kind in the country, the St. Paul, Minn., school system recently launched a new initiative called Excel, which combines two summer school sessions over consecutive years, with an incremental grade advancement component, for struggling students at the elementary and middle school levels.

The program started during the summer with about 3,000 elementary and middle school students who were identified as having performed below curriculum requirements, according to Denise Quinlan, director of the school system's Excel program. At the end of the summer, students who were considered to have mastered the requirements for advancement to the next grade level were allowed to move on.

"Families had an opportunity to show that students successfully completed an alternative summer school program, too" Quinlan says of students who were allowed to resume with their class.

The others--about 300--were placed in incremental grades, such as 3.5, 5.5 and 8.5 instead of fourth, sixth and ninth grades. After the school year, those students will receive another summer school session and will then be able to rejoin their respective classmates. While the St. Paul school system is not the first to try an incremental grade program, it is the first in recent memory to offer it on such an extensive level and with multiple grades. Quinlan says the system has been contacted by other districts in the country for information on how it got started.

"What surprised me the most so far is that reactions to the new program have been very supportive," Quinlan says, adding that there were some parents who disagreed with their child's placement in the program, and they were given opportunities to appeal the decision. "Most parents and families knew that we were trying to do something to help struggling students. …