Benefits came from remote summer school

JOHNSTOWN — HFM BOCES officials say there were some benefits to providing this year’s regional summer school program in a fully remote format due to the coronavirus and now plan to engage component school district superintendents in discussion about how the program should be delivered in future years.

HFM BOCES Deputy Superintendent Lorraine Hohenforst on Sept. 30 briefed the Board of Education on the outcomes the district observed while hosting its annual regional summer school program in a fully remote format for the first time. The program offers credit recovery for students from component school districts in grades nine through 12 and skill enrichment for students in grades six through eight.

The program running July through August is typically offered in-person on a yearly rotating basis at school campuses in either the Gloversville Enlarged School District or the Greater Amsterdam School District which as the largest component districts with the largest facilities are best able to accommodate summer school students from throughout the region.

HFM BOCES shifted the program to a virtual format this year following an executive order from Gov. Andrew Cuomo limiting summer school sessions to be offered through remote instruction only across the state as all instruction was offered beginning in March to slow the spread of the coronavirus until the start of the new school year.

Although nine component school districts enrolled students in the remote summer school program representing typical utilization when compared to past years, Hohenforst acknowledged that fewer students overall took part in the program this year.

But Hohenforst attributed the lower overall enrollment to the grading practices schools adopted during the fourth quarter of the year when students and teachers were suddenly forced to shift to fully remote instruction and the exemption of students from taking June Regents exams as part of graduation requirements.

“We really attribute it to more pass/fail that many districts adopted as their final grades for students and no Regents exams were required this year for students in June, that not as many students needed to take summer school courses,” said Hohenforst.

Due in part to the potentially uneven instruction students may have received following the shift to remote instructions and the practicality of administering standardized tests to students learning from home, the state Education Department and Board of Regents canceled June Regents exams and exempted students who passed Regents courses from taking related exams typically required as part of state graduation requirements. The decision was also retroactive for students who previously failed a Regents exam and planned to retake it in the 2019-20 school year as long as they passed the associated class.

Despite the reduced attendance numbers, Hohenforst noted that retention rates in the summer school program were similar to previous years with 34 students withdrawing from the program this year compared to 32 percent in 2019.

“We unfortunately had students leave the program but not to any greater degree than we have had in the past with the face-to-face program,” said Hohenforst.

Students who completed the program apparently did so with greater success as 89 percent of students passed their coursework this year compared with 82 percent of students who passed courses in 2019. Hohenforst noted that the district adopted a pass/fail grading model for the remote session that teachers expressed a preference for over the customary numerical system.

Hohenforst additionally noted that “unsurprisingly” no students were removed from the program due to disciplinary issues in the remote format.

“That was a benefit that we saw,” said Hohenforst.

Based on the program’s successful conclusion this year, Hohenforst pointed to the next step for HFM BOCES as reviewing statistics from the fully remote session with component school district superintendents and discussing plans for the program in the future to determine whether it should revert to its usual in-person only format or whether instruction should continue to be modified to include virtual components.

“Will it be changed to a remote? Will it be hybrid? What possibilities exist for us to maybe change how we offer a regional summer school program to our districts,” said Hohenforst.

Another factor in that discussion will likely be the future determination by the state Education Department and the Board of Regents on whether to administer Regents exams in the 2020-21 school year.

While tentative examination periods in January, June and August have been set to inform school calendar planning, state Education Department Office of State Assessment Assistant Commissioner Steven Katz in an August letter announcing the tentative schedule stated that no final decisions have yet been made on whether exams will be administered this year.

“As the start of the school year gets underway, the NYSED will be mindful of the many uncertainties faced statewide. We will continuously monitor the situation and provide updated guidance, policies and regulatory changes as the situation requires. This will include closely monitoring the feasibility and fairness of administering the January, June and August 2021 Regents examinations. At this time, no final decision regarding the 2021 Regents examination administrations has been made,” Katz stated.

By Patricia Older