There were many, many fewer Schenectady seventh- and eighth-graders skipping school this year, but that didn’t produce better grades.
After the third quarter, half of the seventh- and eighth-graders in the city were failing at least one class, the same percentage as last year.
The passing rate went down for almost every course, however. Only social studies had a higher passing rate this year than last year after the third quarter. English was the same — about 82 percent of students were passing the course. In the other classes, more students are failing this year.
School officials are still crunching the numbers to determine the final passing rate for the year. But as of the end of the third quarter, the worst subject was math, where 70 percent were passing. Last year, 76 percent were passing at that point in the school year.
Yet attendance skyrocketed this year. School records show that 91 percent of seventh- and eighth-graders achieved a 95 percent attendance rate or better. Last year, only 41 percent of the students managed to come to school that often.
School officials had hoped increased attendance would translate into better grades. They said all year they would surely have a better chance to teach if students were actually in their classrooms. But it didn’t turn out that way.
“We have those expectations,” said city schools Superintendent Laurence Spring, acknowledging the widely held belief that grades would improve this year.
He said two things might have held students back. At Mont Pleasant Middle School, which many of the district’s seventh- and eighth-graders attend, students had to get through a chaotic and violent first semester. The school went through several principals as well. Things eventually improved, but Spring said it wasn’t instantaneous.
“Once we got a new administrator into the building, it takes a little while to get things settled down and focused on academics,” Spring said.
At the same time, grading got harder this year, he added. Last year, grades were substantially higher than scores on state tests, and Spring directed teachers to make the classes harder so grades would match the test scores.
“There was a pretty significant disconnect” between grades and test scores last year, he said. “We started to ratchet up our rigor this year.”
Although 50 percent of students were failing a class at the end of third quarter, Spring said final passing rates won’t be known for a couple days.
But he’s taking steps to help those students catch up this summer. Summer school will be offered to students in grades 7-12, rather than just high school students.
For seventh- and eighth-graders, it won’t be a full summer school program; just the four basics will be offered: math, science, social studies and English.
To help those students get to school, the district will also provide busing, which it has not in the past.
“Every middle school kid who needs summer school can get it,” Spring said. “That means working to get transportation. We recognize transportation is a barrier.”