SOE Professor Marc Stein has done considerable research on the learning loss some students experience over the summer months. In this article, he discusses that what some have termed “ summer slide” and the latest research on interventions that can slow that loss.
Summer vacation provides, in the ideal, a time for students to take a break from the rigors of the school year, to relax, to play. However it has been well established through research that students’ learning growth can slow, remain unchanged or even decline during the summer. Especially challenging in urban districts and schools where socioeconomically disadvantaged students make up most of the public school enrollment is research that has shown that these students generally experience greater losses in academic performance during summer break than their more advantaged peers (Cooper, Nye, Charlton, Lindsay & Greathouse, 1996). Summer learning losses during elementary school have also been implicated as a major contributor to achievement gaps in the 9th grade between high and low socioeconomic status students (Alexander, Entwisle and Olsen, 2007).
The summer represents a potentially dramatic change in context for disadvantaged children as they no longer have the academic, social, and resource supports provided by the school and must rely solely on the supports available in their families and communities (Entwisle, Alexander & Olsen, 2000; Slates, Alexander, Entwisle & Olsen, 2012). In recognition of this need many school districts and community groups across the country run formal summer programs at little or no cost to low income students that provide opportunities for enrichment and continued skill development. While research has shown these programs to be generally effective for stemming summer learning loss in mathematics (e.g. Cooper, Charlton, Valentine, & Muhlenbruck, 2000; McCombs, Pane, Augustine, Schwartz, Martorell and Zakaras, 2014), their effectiveness on literacy is less clear as a large recent randomized control trial of voluntary district-run programs found no impact on students’ reading achievement (McCombs, Pane, Augustine, Schwartz, Martorell and Zakaras, 2014).
A promising line of research has shown that the provision of academic resources in the form of distributing free books to students during the summer has positive effects on stemming summer learning loss (see Allington, McGill-Franzen, Camilli, Williams, Graf, Zeig, et al., 2010; Kim, 2006; Kim & White, 2008). The effects of these programs appear to be of similar magnitude to those found among ‘traditional’ summer programs but at a much lower monetary cost. This is important because district-run summer programs are often the first programs to be cut or scaled back significantly in times of tight budgets, as was the case this summer in Baltimore.
From 2011-2013 the Abell Foundation, Inc. implemented a book distribution program modeled on variations on James Kim’s SummerREADS program in Baltimore. The program distributed approximately 40,000 books to 4,000 early elementary students during the three years of implementation. While the program did not have an effect on students’ reading achievement over the course of the summer, we did find evidence of a delayed positive effect of the program on students’ achievement scores on the Maryland School Assessment reading test (Stein, 2015). Last summer The Abell Foundation working in conjunction with the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation and other community partners launched a program that combined book distribution with the opening of school libraries and the provision of literacy focused enrichment in a six-week, drop-in program. This effort showed evidence of a positive effect on student’s reading achievement relative to comparison students and will be operating again this year in nine local elementary schools (link to the program here). Another intriguing program that will be piloted this summer in Baltimore by the national non-profit Raising a Reader will be working on improving summer literacy by providing books, print materials, magazine subscriptions and digitally delivered parent trainings that will help children and families build and sustain shared reading behaviors over the summer.
Summer learning loss can have profound impacts on the educational trajectories of students and has deep implications for improving education in the United States. School districts, local organizations, cities and national organizations recognize this and are working in coordinated ways to meet the need and demand for high quality summer programs. For example, in Baltimore three local foundations/community groups have created a common application for funding summer programs, the mayor’s office has convened a work group to coordinate summer opportunities in the city and the Family League of Baltimore in conjunction with other community partners and the National Summer Learning Association have been working on developing a strategic plan for summer in the city. These efforts are promising but there still remains much work to ensure that summer programs are sustainable in the face of lean budgets and that all children are able to take advantage of these opportunities.
Alexander, K., Entwisle, D. & Olsen, L. (2007). Summer learning and its implications: Insights from the Beginning School Study. New Directions for Youth Development, 2007, 11-32.
Allington, R. L., McGill-Franzen, A., Camilli, G., Williams, L., Graff, J., Zeig, J., et al. (2010). Addressing summer reading setback among economically disadvantaged elementary students. Reading Psychology, 31(5), 411-427.
Cooper, H., Nye, B., Charlton, K., Lindsay, J., & Greathouse, S. (1996). The effects of summer vacation on achievement test scores: A narrative and meta-analytic review. Review of Educational Research, 66(3), 227-268
Entwisle, D., Alexander, K. & Olsen, L. (2000). Summer Learning and the Home Environment. In R. Kahlenberg (Ed), A Notion at Risk: Preserving Public Education as an Engine for Social Mobility (pp. 9-30). New York: The Century Foundation Press.
Kim, J. (2006). Effects of a voluntary summer reading intervention on reading achievement: Results from a randomized field trial. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 28(4), 335-355
Kim, J., & White, T. (2008). Scaffolding Voluntary Summer Reading for Children in Grades 3 to 5: An Experimental Study. Scientific Studies of Reading, 12(1), 1-23.
Slates, S. L., Alexander, K. L., Entwisle, D. R., & Olson, L. S. (2012). Counteracting Summer Slide: Social Capital Resources Within Socioeconomically Disadvantaged Families. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk (JESPAR), 17(3), 165–185. http://doi.org/10.1080/10824669.2012.688171
Stein, M. (in press). Supporting the summer reading of urban youth: An evaluation of the Baltimore SummerREADS program. Education and Urban Society.