Kids across the country are off school and enjoying summer vacation. This typically means more time spent at the park, swimming pool or beach, as it should! It often means more time in front of the TV too. And that almost always results in less time engaged in educational pursuits like reading, math and problem solving.
Educators across the country say this extended break from school work creates a summer slump,” where students forget some of what they learned over the previous school year. But what does the evidence say?
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.
My own personal experience lines up with the evidence that students can maintain and even improve academic skills over the summer. Last year, my first grader read for a half hour each day during summer vacation. When he returned to school in the fall, he had moved up four reading levels. So this summer, we’re at it again – either reading or writing each day over summer break. While I recognize the importance of all of the fun that comes with summer, the evidence shows a small investment in learning when school’s out can make a difference for kids.