More than 780 kindergarten through eighth-grade pupils in St. Louis Public Schools who have fallen behind in reading are being held back this school year. That’s double the number of pupils retained last fall, when 372 students did not move on to the next grade.
“It’s a long-term problem; I don’t think we can solve it overnight,” said Superintendent Kelvin Adams. “Kids come to us with a lot of academic issues. What we can do is target resources to the neediest students, and that’s what we’re looking to do. We do have resources, we just need to make sure those resources are targeted deliberately to those 786 kids.”
To help correct the problem, Adams said the district has already given students assessment to gauge if they need extra academic support. It’s an approach he likened to the district's transformation plan, which funnels extra resources and tightens central office oversight of the district’s most academically challenged schools.
As for the students held back, Adams said administrators are working out individualized academic interventions to get them back on track. And he said principals will begin sending in reports on those students' progress.
Adams said administrators have always kept an eye on students, but “it’s much more strategic and deliberate now than it has been before, and people are being held accountable for it.”
In March the district notified parents and guardians that summer school was highly recommended if they have a child in danger of not moving on to the next grade. Of the 786 student being held back, Adams said more than 400 were not enrolled in summer school.
The numbers come in the wake of a critical state audit released last September. It found that the district was promoting students to the next grade even though they might be too far behind in reading. The audit noted that more than 2,000 students in 2011 and 2012 tested at the lowest level in reading on state assessments. At the same time, 155 and 128 first through eighth-grade students were held back during those years, respectively.
In June 2012, the St. Louis school district tightened its promotion and retention rules for fourth graders. But because the district is governed by an SAB, Adams said that administrators weren’t aware of the added rules for Kindergarten through eighth-grade students.
State law mandates that before fourth graders can move on to the next grade, they cannot be more than one grade level behind in reading. Because a Special Administrative Board oversees the provisionally accredited district, a separate law extends that requirement to students through the eighth grade.
“We want to make sure we’re providing as much support on the front end in September as opposed to March, April and May,” Adams said.
The total enrollment in the district for all grades is more than 26,200 for this school year.