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Many students still failing

FRIDAY, FEB. 24, 2012

Spokane Public Schools realize uneven results in ICAN program

A new program aimed at helping Spokane Public Schools’ failing seventh- and eighth-graders is not the fix school officials had hoped.

Individual Credit Advancement Now, or ICAN, was created by district administrators and implemented in November. The goal was to identify students failing math or language arts and require them to stay after school for tutoring until they are back on track.

The program was also designed to end the practice of “social promotion,” or allowing students to advance to higher grades even though they’re not doing grade-level work.

ICAN was developed when Spokane Public Schools administrators realized a third of high school freshmen were failing one or more classes at the end of the first semester, officials said last year. The district’s board, meanwhile, vowed to end the practice of social promotion this school year.

But early data shows ICAN isn’t solving the first problem, and whether it will solve the second is a question mark.

Administrators say the program is helping some midlevel learners turn an “F” into a passing grade, but it’s not intensive enough to aid students who still struggle with reading and comprehension when they reach seventh grade. Nor has it worked yet for dealing with students who are apathetic about academics.

“All of us thought ICAN would be able to help more kids,” said Superintendent Nancy Stowell.

At a recent meeting, board members expressed frustration to administrators over the program’s progress.

“Our goal was to provide real-time intervention to students who were flunking math or language arts rather than make them wait for summer school or the next semester,” said Bob Douthitt, board president. “It looks like that’s happening at different rates at different schools.”

He added, “some students are so far behind when they get to seventh grade, this program is not going to help them.”

Administrators say ICAN, which was implemented at no extra cost because it uses existing resources, is still a work in progress.

“This is not a good match for every kid,” said Tammy Campbell, executive director of instructional programs. “We want the kids in this program to be somewhat motivated, independent and have some skills.”

Identifying which students ICAN is helping is complicated by the fact that grading is not consistent across the district, Campbell said.

“Some teachers count homework and extra credit, others use one big project for a majority of the grade,” Campbell said. “We should be consistent in grading the students based on what they know.”

The district is considering standards-based grading for middle school and high school, a grading method based on how well the students meet state and national standards in key topic areas such as reading, writing and math.

With barely four months of data, administrators say there’s still more to learn about how students perform in the program. And at the end of the year, if a student is still failing, they will be required to attend summer school.

But if the student still fails, will they be moved on to the next grade level?

The school board hoped ICAN would end the controversial practice of social promotion. But there are still too many unknowns, the elected officials now admit.

However, administrators say the program will make a difference.

“ICAN ends that notion that kids can just get by in middle school,” Stowell said.

“They can’t. They will be put in ICAN. If kids blow it off, and they don’t come to school, we will not move them on.”

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