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The front lobby of Male High School welcomes parents and students to the Summer Backpack League, a four-week summer learning program aimed at helping kids who struggle in reading and math.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Officials at Jefferson County Public Schools want to double the size of its Summer Backpack League in its second year next summer, but some members of the school board questioned whether such a move should be made so soon during a work session Tuesday.

One thousand students enrolled in the $1.2 million summer enrichment program, which aimed to keep students entering third through sixth grades engaged in their learning while out of school. Carmen Coleman, the district's chief academic officer, said JCPS invited students from the district's low-performing schools.

JCPS officials cited results from recent rounds of Measures of Academic Progress test results to show that participants in the four-week program, an offshoot of its Backpack of Success Skills initiative, didn’t experience the “summer slide” in their learning.

Students’ scores on Measures of Academic Progress testing from the spring of 2018-19 to this fall only dipped slightly in fifth- and sixth-grade reading, down 1 point and 0.1 points, respectively.

Students showed gains in every other testing category. Fourth-grade reading and math scores jumped 3.8 points and 2.2 points, respectively; fifth-grade math results increased 0.6 points; and sixth-grade math scores went up 2.2 points, according to MAP results presented during Tuesday’s work session.

“We see that dip typically in academic outcomes from the spring to the fall because of the summer, and so our students that participated in this program did not show that slide,” said Dena Dossett, the district’s chief of accountability, research and systems improvement. “They maintained their growth there.”

Dossett said the MAP test for those transitioning from second grade to third isn’t the same and thus can’t be compared.

Attendance for students who participated regularly was also up 0.2% in the first 20 days of the 2019-20 school year, according to district data presented Tuesday.

Teachers, who got to keep the materials they developed for the backpack league, also seemed satisfied with the new program, according to the district. Many reported that they planned to use more project-based learning and student-driven activities in their classrooms this year.

Chromebooks donated by GE Appliances for the program, worth $70,000, are being used in classrooms at McFerran Preparatory Academy, Price Elementary, Byck Elementary, Minors Lane Elementary, Shacklette Elementary, Jacob Elementary, Coleridge-Taylor Elementary and Cochran Elementary.

While JCPS is exploring the possibility of doubling enrollment in the program next summer, officials said there are some areas that could be improved, such allowing kids to enroll in two “adventures” for two weeks each rather than one four-week program based on a single "adventure." 

The latter point could help get more teachers involved in Summer Backpack League, particularly those who could have trips planned during four-week span, JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio said.

“I think a lot of them didn’t do it because it was the entire month of July,” he told the Jefferson County Board of Education.

Some board members questioned the wisdom of doubling the size of the program after just one year, which would likely double its cost for the district. The $1.2 million spent this summer included transportation to and from Male High School and various field trip sites plus meals for program participants.

“Should we collect more data to determine whether or not this is really working,” asked board member Corrie Shull, who represents District 6.

Pollio, in response, said initial data indicates the program shows success. The district could be “more targeted” about the students selected for the summer enrichment experience, he said.

“I’m really encouraged by the work of the backpack league and how it engaged kids, and I think it is a great foundation for us moving forward,” Pollio said.

Others on the school board supported the district’s efforts to put more students through the summer enrichment program.

“I want to be able to provide this option to as many JCPS students who would like to participate in it, whether that’s 1,000 or 10,000 or maybe even 100,000 a long way in the future,” said board member James Craig, who represents District 3.

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