Stockton Unified's summer school program is helping district's graduation rate
Stockton Unified School District is raising its graduation rates from the abyss through summer and intersession catch-up, breaking the mold of traditional education.
Stockton’s largest school district graduated 85% of its seniors last year, up from 76.6% in 2020. The mark nears the rising statewide rate of 87.4%, which the California Department of Education says likely reflects accommodations designed to help students most impacted by COVID-19.
The uptick at Stockton Unified is in large part due to the district’s progressive summer school programs and during-the-school-year catch up, said Brian Biedermann, the district's director of Educational Services.
“We’re on a term system for four months to get a grade,” Biedermann told The Record. “That may still be the case for the majority of our kids, but now we have options for them outside of that traditional model that we have to move away from in education anyway. That model has never worked for all students. It worked for some, but it’s never worked for most.”
Biedermann, who served as SUSD's interim superintendent for a time during the pandemic, told the Board of Trustees March 20 that 117 seniors at risk of not graduating last year were able to get their diplomas by finishing high school over summer, raising Stockton Unified’s graduation rate by 4.4%.
District schools can opt into summer programming — 30 of 56 campuses have as of March 20 — and can tailor the instruction to meet their students’ specific needs.
“We’re lucky to have adults that believe in this program willing to work extreme hours over the summer and during intersession,” Biedermann said. “They’re connecting with the kids, I have adults going to houses literally dragging them out of bed to complete coursework, because we don’t want them to be five or 10 credits away and just give up.”
Biedermann said more traditional, in-person English-learner and migrant summer extension programs are available, as well as virtual classrooms through their Apex and Cyber High programs. Virtual counseling and tutoring are also available for students during the summer and midyear breaks.
“Prepandemic, (graduation) was a concern for us too … our graduation rates were lower than they are now,” Biedermann said. “If there’s a positive from COVID, it allowed us to innovate what education looks like and do things synchronous and asynchronous with online learning … What we experienced is when you make it flexible for kids … and they’re not locked in a box of what we think education should be for them, it starts to work a little bit more.”
Apex and Cyber High are assessment-based, asynchronous, at-your-own-pace-style virtual classes for courses that have already been taught. The programs are fully accredited, A-G college-accepted courses, Biedermann said.
“If you took English 1 traditionally and failed, you can retake that course online,” Biedermann said. “Instead of you sitting in a seat, you’d be able to progress through the online curriculum as fast as you could.”
If students don’t pass an assessment, they are pulled into small group instruction, Biedermann said. The format also takes teacher and student bias out of the equation.
“It’s 100% mastery-based learning,” Biedermann said. “A student who’s already failed Algebra 1, instead of sitting in class again for an entire year to retake it, they can take it online and progress through in three months because they’ve learned something, and it’s just now the small nuance and tweaks that we can provide in the small group instruction.”
Similar principles apply during the year. Structured catch-up opportunities are offered at opted-in campuses to students during extended school breaks — fall, winter, and spring break, for example — to turn a failing grade into a passing grade or improve an existing passing grade through makeup assignments or other opportunities, Biedermann said.
Online programming is also available to students during the school day, primarily at the district’s four comprehensive high schools. Biedermann said the district is trying to catch students near a potential failure and provide the help they need to be successful.
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“They’ve learned something, they may not have a passing grade, but there’s something there that we can attach to weekly,” Biedermann said. “If we wait six months or a year, they don’t retain it … (it’s) real-time intervention.”
A March 20 presentation from Biedermann shows about 11% of Stockton Unified seniors are in danger of not graduating this year.
“A lot of (students) work (in the summer). A lot take care of their siblings or take care of their parents,” Biedermann said at the March 20 board meeting. “We went to campuses and asked kids … ‘What would summer look like for you? Tell us how you would like us to build it.’
We’ve built it, we’ve been doing it for about three years now … we’re trying to innovate and think of what our kids need.”
The district is scheduled to discuss changes to graduation requirements at the April 4 Board of Trustees meeting.
This article originally appeared on The Record: Summer school is saving Stockton Unified’s graduation rate