Is a student who attends summer school better off than one who is invited but doesn’t?

That was one of the fundamental questions explored by the local Board of Education during its meeting earlier this month, when Santa Monica-Malibu school district officials discussed current summer school offerings and began discussing plans for next year.

The school board’s study highlighted the district’s need to improve its tracking capabilities as it tries to handle programs and problems with more statistical substance.

“We need better tracking in general,” board member Craig Foster said. “If we take care of kids who are getting D’s and F’s, we will take a huge step in closing the achievement gap. This board is passionate about whatever we can do to get better data because we want to have clear, actionable goals with clear metrics around them.”

At least some of the district’s ability to act on data hinges on its tracking software, which officials said has experienced problems in recent years.

Board member Laurie Lieberman wondered aloud about the effectiveness of the district’s tracking software, which is provided by Irvine-based Illuminate Education.

“There have been questions about Illuminate,” Superintendent Sandra Lyon said, adding that district officials are planning to meet with the company’s president next month. “We want to make sure we’re using it correctly, but we have some real concerns. … We’re still new at [data].”

The school board reviewed some data on the various SMMUSD summer programs, which support students who need intervention as well as those who are trying to boost their grade-point averages and those who are working to get ahead on classes.

The district’s intensive intervention program hosted about 740 children entering grades 1-6 at several different campuses. Noting attendance issues in previous years, officials were encouraged that 85 percent of the students missed two days or fewer this summer.

But of the 700 students in grades 1-4 last year who were invited to summer school, just 425 attended, district officials said.

The district should compare the state test results of students who attended summer school and those who didn’t despite being invited, board member Jose Escarce said.

Also of interest to the board was the summer credit recovery program, which allows students to retake courses in which they received D’s or F’s.

High school students this summer tried to improve upon nearly 1,000 combined unsatisfactory grades, although SMMUSD assessment director Evan Bartelheim noted that the actual student population was smaller than that because some students took multiple classes.

Eighty-seven percent of students in summer school for credit recovery earned passing grades.

“That’s a little concerning,” board member Oscar de la Torre said. “It would be good to drill down on that 13 percent. What’s happening with these students? Do we need more intervention? Is tutoring needed? It’s a waste of the students’ time if they’re going to summer school and trying to correct the grade and then get the same performance as during the semester.”

The district added more literacy and math coaches as well as trained classroom assistants this summer to help students learn the material. SMMUSD also continued using summer school as a training ground for future principals and other administrators.

For the coming summer, the district is looking into options for programs for particular student subgroups, including English learners and children with disabilities.

Board member Ralph Mechur recommended exploring more possibilities for middle school students, but Lyon said those programs would not likely be running by 2016.

jeff@www.smdp.com