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New summer school numbers are smaller

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Ever since former CEO Paul Vallas re-introduced summer school in Philadelphia in 2003, almost every year come the proclamations that the newest incarnation of the District’s summer program is bigger and better.

But attendance data for the 2010 District summer programs recently obtained by the Notebook seem to show that District claims about the success of the $42 million program were inflated.

A District report to the School Reform Commission in November on the District’s 2010 summer program, S.L.A.M., pointed to record participation and evidence of academic impact but was missing some basic information about how many students actually showed up.

Here are the latest figures on summer school attendance provided by the District, covering grades preK to 12:

  • 58,511 students attended at least 1 day out of 21
  • 40,070 students attended at least 5 days
  • 24,496 students attended at least 16 days.

The November report to the SRC said that about eight in ten students attended daily. However, a footnote in the presentation clarified that grade-by-grade attendance rates were for students who attended 5 days or more.

A little analysis of the latest numbers:

  • By attending 16 days or more this summer, 24,496 students achieved at least 76 percent attendance. But this group of regular attendees, whose results were studied and provided the basis for District claims of the program’s academic impact, represented well under half (42 percent) of the total participants.
  • Somewhere between 33,000-36,000 students attended the summer program daily, we can estimate from the latest data. That is well below an earlier District claim of 42,084 average daily attendance.

The group that attended 16 days or more in 2010 is slightly larger than the District’s final 2009 participation figure of 23,758 students – a statistic introduced for comparison purposes in the November presentation.

But last year’s District claims about summer school participation rates had diminished over time. After the 2009 program launched, participation for that summer program was estimated at 40,000. Later, according to press accounts, that number was revised downward to 32,000, and now to 23,758.

This year, the downward revising hasn’t caught on. It’s the 58,000 figure – the number of students who attended one day – that is still frequently cited by both local officials and the local media.

The District explained its use of that figure in a statement by spokesperson Elizabeth Childs, saying in part: "A promotional campaign encouraging students to take part in S.L.A.M. resulted in 58,511 students registering and attending for at least one of the 21 days. This number helps us determine the effectiveness of this campaign and the scope of S.L.A.M. When looking at attendance data, however, the District looked at students who had attended S.L.A.M. for five or more days."

Childs added that "each data set, whether it’s a snapshot in time or final tallies, serves a purpose in evaluating past performance, adjusting present activities and/or planning for future programs."

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