Each summer we sign our 7 year old up for the Alameda Parks and Rec summer aquatics program at the Encinal High School pool. Usually he does two of the three sessions, covering 6 weeks, with lessons four nights a week. At the end of each session they issue a report card and let the kids know the level they are on.
There are actually two pools at Encinal High, a fairly shallow one and one that is set up for lap swimming and diving (it has a spring board in one corner where the depth increases to 12′).The shallower one is heated, and is where most of the classes happen. The deeper one is used by the groups on the higher levels and for treading water by the lower groups (it has a shallow side).
The lessons are relatively small groups (five or six kids per group), and the instructors look like college or high school kids. There seems to be quite a bit of variation in what they actually do between instructors, but they do spend the entire time working with the kids. The last five minutes of each class are a free swim / play time for the kids too which they like.
Sadly, this is where the whole program falls apart. There is zero consistency between sessions. The written remarks on the back of the report don’t match the items highlighted in the list as not completed. Worse still, from one report to the next, things that had been completed are suddenly marked as failing. Here are the two achievement lists from 2017:
As you can see, in both cases one item was marked as not being achieved, but it was a different item, and the one in session 2 he had previously achieved in session 1. I would have expected there to be some kind of continuity from one session to the next such that the kids spent the second session working on the skills they were missing at the end of the first.
Things get even more puzzling when we get to the “Exit Skills Assessment” section on the back of the form. The first session had all three items marked as complete (I read exit assessment as meaning the skills required to leave this level and move the next):
Yet, despite all the exit requirements being met, they decided that he had not completed level two. The second one did not have any of the exit assessment section marked at all:
Not even sure whether they bothered to do the exit assessment for this session. Certainly does not appear that way since it is hard to believe he would have regressed that much in the space of three weeks.
Then, the first session this year looks like this:
Now six of the skills that had been marked as achieved in both of the 2017 sheets are ringed (not sure what that actually means), and three are left without markings at all. The exit assessment now has one item ringed:
Below that there is a block of text from the instructor that only says he needs to improve side breathing in freestyle and staying on his back.
While the swimming is certainly something that he enjoys, and I believe he does learn from these sessions, the assessments do nothing to confirm that. Looking at the assessments above, either they are totally inconsistent in how they are assessed (and the 2017 ones were just a few weeks apart), or the classes are making him a worse swimmer! (FWIW, he has been swimming with me many times in the year between these classes, and in my opinion has improved a lot in his swimming over this last year.)
Adding to this, we just started the second session and it appears they took no notice of the reports they sent home last week, and decided to re-assess all the kids as if this was their first time at the pool. It is hard to believe that the person running this program has any experience with running a swim school. The inconsistencies in the instruction and especially in the assessments is disappointing.
The more cynical part of me suspects that these report cards are not issued based on assessed skills, but rather on available space in the class for the next level. Right now there appears to be one level three group, and it is full, making it impossible to promote anybody else right now (unless they are not attending the next session of course).
Both my wife and I have now spoken with Dennis (his response is below in the comments), and the pool manager about the issues with the assessments. They are going to be looking into what they can do to make them more consistent between instructors and between sessions, in the same season at least, to improve that aspect of the sessions.
I would like to re-iterate that I do think the sessions themselves have been valuable. Our son has definitely improved during his time in the classes. That is what made the issue with the assessments even more frustrating (not to mention demotivating for the kids who work hard for three weeks only to receive a report that suggests they are worse than they were previously).