For most kids, summer vacation has begun. This typically means more time spent at the park, swimming pool or beach, and often in front of the TV as well. It also means less time engaged in educational pursuits like reading, math and problem solving.
Many teachers say that our school schedule of long summer vacations leads to a “summer slump,” where students forget some of what they learned over the previous school year. But what does the evidence say about summer learning loss?
It turns out, the topic is more complicated than it first appears. A systematic review of 39 studies published in 1996 found summer loss equaled about one month of classroom learning, and students tended to regress more in math skills compared to reading skills. It also found that students from middle- and upper class families improved in reading over the summer, while students from lower-income families regressed.
Since then, additional studies and reviews have found similar results. A 2007 study by researchers at John Hopkins University examined data from a nationally-representative sample. They found the achievement gap at ninth grade mainly traces to differences in summer learning during the elementary school years. And a 2004 study found that all achievement gaps among students tend to be exacerbated by summer breaks.
The evidence clearly demonstrates that summer learning loss is a problem for under-achieving students. So, what are some evidence-based solutions?
One longitudinal study published in 2010 found that providing low-income elementary students with a set of books to read each summer over the course of three years significantly improved their scores on state reading tests.
A white paper by the Georgia Family Connection Partnership suggests a range of evidence-based interventions including offering summer learning programs, extending the school year, and encouraging families to visit local attractions and read together.
And a Harvard University meta-analysis published this year found that reading interventions for children in kindergarten through eighth-grade improved reading outcomes, most significantly for children from low-income families.
The evidence is clear: Yes, some children do forget skills and knowledge learned in the previous school year. But if families and educators encourage kids to stay engaged in learning throughout the summer, students may not only maintain, but improve their knowledge.