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Forum addresses closing student achievement gap

By NATE DOUGHERTY - 4/23/2013 4:00:17 PM

Closing the achievement gap for low-performing middle school students will take dedicated afterschool and summer programs, as well as the cooperation of private and community groups, education experts say.

To work toward that goal, more than 300 people gathered at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center on Tuesday for a forum on improving student achievement. The forum, “Smarter Partnerships: Making Collaborations Work to Boost Student Achievement in Rochester,” was part of the Rochester Business Journal Power Breakfast Series and drew local and national experts to address the issue.

The forum looked at both the importance of summer learning and ways to expand public-private partnerships to support expanded learning.

Local programs to increase summer learning have been proven successful. The summerLEAP program provides summer learning programs to students from the Rochester City School District, funded by private foundations and the district. In 2012, the summerLEAP program worked with 423 low-income students across partnerships at six local institutions.

One of those, the Horizons program at The Harley School, has been in operation for 19 years and showed positive results. Participants at the Horizons program have a graduate rate greater than 90 percent, and a 96 percent daily attendance rate.

It is important that these programs focus early in the academic lives of students, participants at the forum noted. Students who do not receive summer instructional program—especially students from at-risk, low-income backgrounds—can lose months of instruction, a loss that accumulates over time.

“By third grade we can already tell which students will be successful and which ones won’t,” said Bolgen Vargas, RCSD superintendent.

Though the district is working to improve the focus on summer and after-school learning and close the gap, it can not work alone, Vargas said. He implored local community groups and businesses to join the effort.

“This is a problem we can solve, we just need common sense and strong support for the community,” he said.

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