Eleven Swain Elementary School students sat down in teacher Sean Kennedy's fourth-grade classroom Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. to do math problems. But school had been out since 2:30 p.m.
Two days a week for an hour, these 11 students and 60 others participate in an after-school tutorial program for students considered at risk or candidates for retention.
The after-school tutorial is the Cypress School District's answer to legislation signed last fall by former Gov. Pete Wilson that put an end to promotion of elementary school students who haven't mastered their grade level.
The legislation requires California school districts to offer after-school, summer school and/or Saturday tutorials to help the students perform better.
Previously, schools could recommend the retention of a student, but parents had veto power. Under the new legislation, school districts make the final decision about retaining students in grades two through six.
Teachers identify students in danger of being held back based on test scores, grades and the child's classroom performance in reading, math and writing.
If a child fails in any area, he or she is considered at risk. Failure in two areas makes the student a candidate for retention. In either case, the student must be enrolled in a tutorial program.
Swain Principal Donna Holiday and her staff meet regularly to discuss how to improve the students' skills.
"We talk about what we can do to get these kids what they are not getting in class," said second-grade teacher Noel Besuzzi.
Some teachers use visual tools to help students.
"I try to avoid having them use paper and pencil, because they get that all day long," said third-grade teacher Shirley King.
Kennedy said the biggest problem he sees is a fear of math.
"There is a great deal of math anxiety among my students. . . . I work to bring the anxiety level down," he said. "That and simple careless mistakes. . . . I see it from my average students to my sharpest."
"We have to look for the reasons why kids might not be performing as well as they should and correct them," Holiday said. "We look at what we can do, what parents can do and ultimately what the students themselves can do."
Andre Briscoe can be reached at (714) 966-5848.