Way back in March I accepted a position as an instructional coach position for 8th grade SSI (student success initiative) in the summer. At that time, SSI was a state requirement for 5th and 8th grade students who did not meet satisfactory requirements on state math or reading tests after two attempts. During SSI, students were to take a third administration of the test and the following year’s grade placement would be determined using the third score as part of the decision. I knew the research that states summer school has very little bearing on student success but I also knew our model for instruction was unusual and encouraged teachers to take risks and be brave in their instruction. I wanted to be a part of it.
Flash forward to a couple of days before students were expected to hit the doors of SSI. The Texas Education Agency issued a declaration that students were no longer required to attend SSI, there would be no third test, and no one would be held back due to test results. Chalk one up for the kids! But that left the 70+ 8th grade SSI teachers wondering what would happen. Once the students and parents realized summer could start three weeks earlier than planned, would they keep their kids home? We nervously waited and were surprised when over 250 students showed up.
Day in and day out, the kids keep coming back. I have a theory about why they keep showing up. SSI has no grades and no tests-there is no risk of failure, but more importantly, the teachers have built relationships with students and made learning relevant. The teachers have worked hard to ensure students know that mistakes are part of growth and that we only wear the labels we let others put on us. The teachers have challenged their students and the students are engaged, they are learning, they are showing up and NO ONE IS MAKING THEM DO IT. This is big. We can’t ignore it.
Tomorrow is the last day of SSI. Students will take a survey about their experiences in SSI and one of the questions asks why they kept coming back. I can’t wait to see the results; I’m guessing John Hattie is right-teachers and relationships matter.