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Florida District Offers Algebra 'Boot Camp' for 8th Graders This Summer

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This summer, the Pinellas County, Fla., school district is introducing a six-week algebra boot camp with a twist. Instead of providing remedial instruction for high school students who've failed to pass Algebra 1—a course required to graduate in Florida—this math program is aimed at 8th graders who will be taking Algebra 1 as 9th graders in the fall.

As reported by the Tampa Bay Tribune, only 34 percent of Pinellas 9th graders passed the end-of-course algebra exam last year. Students who wait until 9th grade to take Algebra 1 tend to be less proficient in math than their classmates who take Algebra 1 in 7th or 8th grade. (Seventh graders who take Algebra 1 have a 96 percent pass rate on the exit exam, and 8th graders have a 91 percent pass rate.)

So the district has invited all students who will be taking Algebra 1 for the first time in 9th grade to enroll in the boot camp, which will take place at each of Pinellas County's 17 high schools from June 17 to July 24.

Sessions will last from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. Students will work on exercises designed to improve skills that diagnostic tests show to be their weak areas. For example, the teacher will give a student who understands algebraic expressions but doesn't get geometric shapes exercises dealing with geometric shapes and have them join small group lessons on geometric concepts.

"We're trying to be proactive rather than reactive," Dwayne Hinds, the district's executive director of middle school education, told me. "We're doing some of the work of Algebra I during the summer to give them a better foundation and increase their chances of success when they become 9th graders and are sitting in the course." (The district will also continue to offer remedial algebra courses for high school students in the summer.)

Among the potential benefits of spending summer time studying math before taking algebra rather than after doing poorly in algebra is that it may save some students from having a bad mark that drags down their high school G.P.A., Pinellas County Schools Superintendent Mike Grego told me. The rising 9th graders who enroll in the algebra boot camp will also get a jump on the transition to high school, finding their lockers and meeting teachers before the fall semester begins. And the program will earn students half a credit towards high school graduation.

The algebra boot camp is "a refusal to wait to fail," Grego said. "We know there are issues [with students understanding algebra], but we are not going to wait until those issues progress to the point where students are failing."

The boot camp is also another example of the district's commitment to using summer time to extend learning for targeted groups of students. Last year, Pinellas County launched "Summer Bridge," a program to reduce summer learning loss among struggling elementary and middle school students. Some 73 percent of elementary students increased their proficiency in science and about half of K-4 students improved their reading performance, among other gains, after participating in the program.

"In education, time has always been held as a constant," Grego said. "We have so many hours in the day and those hours are limited. In Pinellas County, we're trying to make time an adjustable variable for students who need additional time."

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