Summer’s Not over Yet! There’s Still Time to Prevent “Summer Learning Loss” and Narrow the Achievement Gap

Summer’s Not over Yet! There’s Still Time to Prevent “Summer Learning Loss” and Narrow the Achievement Gap

Before you start shopping for back-to-school shoes and taking the last dip in the neighborhood pool, take some time to “retrain” your kids’ brains for the upcoming school year.

Yes, these lazy days of summer are necessary to refresh young minds; but they also have a measurable negative effect on kids’ memory and academic performance, often referred to as “summer learning loss” or “summer slide.”  While this phenomenon is nothing new, more and more research is showing that kids just can’t afford to have their brains “go soft” over the summer.

According to the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA), “[r]esearch spanning 100 years shows that students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning of the summer.” (“Know the Facts,” NSLA)

This is all the more true for kids from economically disadvantaged families. Studies show that the achievement gap between students of different income levels grows during summer.

“Most youth lose about two months of grade level equivalency in mathematical computation skills over the summer months. More importantly, however, low-income youth also lose more than two months in reading achievement, despite the fact that their middle-class peers make slight gains.” (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, 227-268.)

The following statistics from the Johns Hopkins School of Education should be a wake-up call for parents and teachers:

Key Findings:

  • Better-off and disadvantaged youth make similar achievement gains during the school year; but during the summer, disadvantaged youth fall significantly behind in reading.
  • By the end of fifth grade, disadvantaged youth are nearly three grade equivalents behind their more affluent peers in reading.
  • Two-thirds of the ninth grade reading achievement gap can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities during the elementary school years; nearly one-third of the gap is already present when children begin school.
  • Early summer learning losses have later life consequences, including high school curriculum placement, whether kids drop out of high school, and whether they attend college.

(Source: “Why Summer Learning Deserves a Front-Row Seat in the Education Reform Arena.” Johns Hopkins School of Education)

With most US schools averaging 180 days in a school year, and with the growing emphasis on standardized testing, summer learning loss means valuable time wasted. A recent NSLA survey found that:

  • 66% percent of teachers spend 3-4 weeks re-teaching material at the beginning of the year.
  • 24% spend at least 5-6 weeks re-teaching material from the previous school year.

Support for access to summer learning programs, through schools and summer camps and through communities resources such as parks and museum, especially for kids from economically disadvantaged families, is growing. It has received public support from both President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. On June 20, 2014, First Lady Michelle Obama championed the cause at the National Learning Day event at the US Department of Education (click here for full text of her speech). She encouraged all the kids in attendance and in America to seek out enriching summer experiences:

“So we want everybody out there listening to go to to find activities right in their communities. And if there aren’t any in your community, I want you to know that this is what we’re going to be working on over the next many, many years.  We’re going to work to make sure that every young person in America can have a great summer learning experience, no matter where they come from or how much money their parents have.”

For those of you who may be thinking, “Aren’t today’s kids over-scheduled, over-tested, and stressed out enough? Leave their summers alone!” Mrs. Obama also had you in mind: “Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t have any fun.  You all should be getting outside, hanging out with your friends, getting some exercise…[b]ut you also have to keep your eyes on the prize.”

If you and your kids have been “slacking” this summer, don’t worry.  There’s still time to get creative and get learning. Below are several great resources to prevent summer learning loss:

Seven Ways to Prevent Summer Learning Loss (Edutopia)

Preventing Summer Learning Loss: Evidence-based Tips: (Parenting Science)

12 Fun Ways to Help Prevent Summer Learning Loss (Huffington Post)

Make a Collage: Summer Fun for Kids of All Ages (Stephanie Henkel)

And what child (or parent) could resist this one? (Hint: You can eat it when you’re done!)

Melt Summer Learning Loss with Chocolate (Huffington Post)

Click here to see the full infographic from NSLA on how summer learning can narrow the achievement gap.

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