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One out of three Buffalo eighth-graders fails - until they attend summer school

Good news about Buffalo's summer school program: 94 percent of eighth-graders did well enough in it this year to get promoted to ninth grade.

The results were good, but not quite as good, among the seventh-graders who attended the Extended Learning Opportunity Program: 80 percent were promoted to eighth grade.

ELOPAssociate Superintendent Will Keresztes was pleased to present the results to the School Board at a recent committee meeting. Good news, board members agreed.

Here's what nobody really talked about much, though: The reason hundreds of kids found themselves in summer school is because they did not do well enough during the year to get promoted to the next grade.

And certainly, nobody talked about exactly how big this problem is.

How many kids are we talking about?

Quite a lot.

Nearly one out of three students -- 31.5 percent, to be exact -- failed eighth grade last year. That's 764 students.

And nearly one out of four students -- 23.5 percent, or a total of 576 students -- failed seventh grade.

To pass either of those grades, students need a final class average of at least 65 percent in three of four core subjects, including math and English. So any student failing two or more classes would be held back, unless they attended summer school.

Now, while state assessments are not counted as part of a student's grade, they are a reasonably objective outside measure of how well students are performing.

In May 2011, here's how well Buffalo's seventh- and eighth-graders performed on those tests. Those at or above proficiency (in other words, scoring a 3 or 4):

- 23.8 percent of seventh-graders on English

- 34.1 percent of seventh-graders on math

- 23 percent of eighth-graders on English

- 27.7 percent of eighth-graders on math

Let's take a minute to revisit the stats on students who did not advance to the next grade. At the end of the school year, one out of four seventh-graders and one out of three eighth-graders were to be held back.

But such a huge percentage of them attended one month of summer school and showed up enough that they were promoted to the next grade. Once summer school was over, the district had dramatically pared its numbers: 5 percent of eighth-graders and 7 percent of seventh-graders ended up getting held back this year.

What does that mean?

Well, administrators and board members seemed to see that as a success.

"The results are mixed, but there's a lot to be encouraged about," Keresztes told the board.

He noted that the summer school students were the first to receive automated wake-up calls from the district -- something he thinks improved attendance, and therefore, enabled students to complete summer school and advance to the next grade.

"I think we have some evidence that if you show up, you have a pretty good shot," he said.

But not everyone holds the same glowing view of Buffalo's summer school results.

Some say it doesn't seem too likely that students are going to learn in four weeks the material they failed to master all year long.

"Really, you get rewarded for attendance in summer school," parent leader Sam Radford said. "They can't read or write, but now they pass the grade."

- Mary Pasciak

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About School Zone

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee joined The Buffalo News in 2007 and currently covers education and suburban schools. She also writes a column for the City & Region section and previously covered government in Erie County and Niagara Falls. Gee graduated from Boston University with degrees in journalism and political science.

@denisejewellgee |

Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes joined The Buffalo News in 2013 and primarily covers the Buffalo Public Schools. She has written about education since 2003 at newspapers in Florida and New York. In 2008, she was a nominated finalist for The Pulitzer Prize. Lankes is an Amherst native and graduate of Sacred Heart Academy and Syracuse University. She started her journalism career writing for the News’ NeXt section.

@TiffanyLankes |

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan has been a cityside reporter for The Buffalo News since 2000 and currently covers the Buffalo Public Schools beat. She previously covered the Williamsville school district and was a full-time education reporter for five years prior to joining The News. She graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

@BNschoolzone |

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams began working for The Buffalo News in 1999 and currently covers Buffalo Public Schools. She formerly was a suburban reporter on the Northtowns beat and has been a cityside reporter covering communities since 2004. Williams has a mass communications degree from Towson University.

@DeidreWilliamsB |