Summer School vs. ESY Services: What’s the Difference?

Kate Gallagher
Kate Gallagher
High School Principal; M.A. in Urban Education, ESL Program Specialist
Older student sitting and working on a laptop that reads “Summer School.”

What is Summer School?

Parent to student: “You better work hard; I’m not paying for summer school!”

The threat of summer school is rarely enough to motivate a student who is already not doing well academically in a class or classes at school. In my experience, summer school has never been a positive thing in a student’s mind. Students are most often assigned summer school classes in subjects that they did not successfully complete. If they sign up for summer school and successfully pass the assigned coursework, they will not need to repeat the course during the following school year.

Summer school courses typically come with a monetary cost that covers teacher pay and materials. At my school, students have to earn a minimum of 50% for their final course grade to be eligible to take the course in summer school to earn credit. Our grading scale is typical: 0-59% F, 60-69% D, 70-79% C, 80-89% B, and 90-100% A. The reason for the minimum required is so that we are not allowing a scenario to exist where a student did 10% of the work for the class over the school year (180 days in PA) and then be able to attend 6 weeks of summer school and pass the course. A reasonable effort must have been shown during the school year for a student to be eligible to finish the course and earn credit through summer school.

The format of summer school has been in-person classes two hours in length per class with strict attendance guidelines. This year, due to COVID-19, our attendance expectations have changed, as our format has changed from in-person to online learning through our local cyber programming provider. Adjusting to this change brings about several concerns; will a student who has not been successful online over the past two months of school closure be any more successful now with the online format? How will this affect cost, attendance, and instructor support?

Looking forward, my hope is that summer school does not always need to come with a negative connotation laced with feelings of failure. I hope that we can create funds for a model of summer school that is aimed at preventing summer loss, encouraging retention of academic knowledge, and providing scaffolding for academic concepts that will be introduced the next school year.

What are ESY Services?

ESY is an acronym for Extended School Year. ESY programming exists to help students who have been identified as having a disability and fall under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). ESY happens over the same calendar months as summer school (break in school sessions), but has a different purpose and, sometimes, audience. Students who have been identified as eligible for special education services may be eligible to participate in ESY program services within their local school district. This programming comes at no charge to families or parents and is covered and protected by the school’s responsibility to provide students with disabilities a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).

ESY programming is not designed to introduce special education students to new instruction or materials, but to prevent loss of skills over the summer. These could be social/behavioral skills, communication/organization skills, or any other goals that are included in their Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Eligibility to participate is determined by the IEP team: parents, case manager, regular education teachers, counselor, and possibly psychologist. Not all students with disabilities are eligible for ESY. The main considerations of the IEP team are; (1) Will the student regress without continuation of services during the break in school sessions, and (2) How long will it take the same student to relearn or regain the skills that they lost?

In-person programming is the most effective and conducive way to conduct ESY. This year, due to COVID-19 and potential social distancing guidelines as outlined by the CDC, schools are preparing to do their best at providing ESY programming through online instruction. This is much different, and without a doubt more difficult, than conducting session in-person, but preventing loss of skills is extremely important for students with disabilities.

ESY services are provided by special education teachers and other professionals who provide therapies that students would normally receive during the school year.

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