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Research Questions

  1. How well are the programs implemented, including site management, quality of academic and enrichment instruction, time spent on academic instruction, site culture, and cost?
  2. What is student participation in one summer and two summers of programming?
  3. What is the effect of admission to one summer of voluntary summer programming on student achievement, behavior, and social-emotional outcomes, measured in the fall and spring after that summer?
  4. What is the effect of admission to two consecutive summers of voluntary summer programming on student achievement, behavior, and social-emotional outcomes, measured in the fall and spring after the second summer?
  5. Do student characteristics, such as achievement level, family income, or English-language learner status, moderate outcomes?
  6. What factors, including program implementation and student attendance, influence student outcomes?

The National Summer Learning Project, launched by the Wallace Foundation in 2011, includes an assessment of the effectiveness of voluntary, district-led summer learning programs offered at no cost to low-income, urban elementary students. The study, conducted by RAND, uses a randomized controlled trial and other analytic methods to assess the effects of district-led programs on academic achievement, social-emotional competencies, and behavior over the near and long term. All students in the study were in the third grade as of spring 2013 and enrolled in a public school in one of five urban districts: Boston; Dallas; Duval County, Florida; Pittsburgh; or Rochester, New York. The study follows these students from third to seventh grade; this report describes outcomes through fifth grade. The primary focus is on academic outcomes but students' social-emotional outcomes are also examined, as well as behavior and attendance during the school year. Among the key findings are that students with high attendance in one summer benefited in mathematics and that these benefits persisted through the following spring; students with high attendance in the second summer benefited in mathematics and language arts and in terms of social-emotional outcomes; and that high levels of academic time on task led to benefits that persisted in both mathematics and language arts.

Key Findings

Implementation Findings

  • Programs implemented common features with fidelity but instructional quality varied within and across sites.

Attendance Findings

  • Participation was weaker in the second summer.
  • Students who participated attended an average of about 75 percent of the time.

Causal Findings on Program Effects

  • Summer programs produced a modest near-term benefit in mathematics that dissipated by the next fall.
  • There was no causal evidence that the programs produced benefits in language arts, social emotional outcomes, or student attendance or grades during the school year.
  • There was no causal evidence that offering two summers of programming provided benefits.

Correlational Findings on Program Effects

  • There is promising evidence that students with high attendance in one summer benefited in mathematics and that these benefits persisted through the following spring.
  • There is promising evidence that students with high attendance in the second summer benefited in mathematics and language arts and that these effects persisted.
  • There is promising evidence that students with high attendance in the second summer benefited in terms of social-emotional outcomes.
  • There is promising evidence that students with high levels of academic time on task benefited from the programs and that these benefits persisted in both mathematics and language arts.
  • There is promising evidence that students who received high-quality language arts instruction benefited from the programs.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    Summer Programs in Practice: Implementation Findings

  • Chapter Three

    Attendance: A Critical Element of Summer Programming

  • Chapter Four

    Outcomes After One and Two Summers of Programming: Causal Findings

  • Chapter Five

    Factors That Influence Outcomes: Insights from Correlational Analyses

  • Chapter Six

    Overall Conclusions and Implications

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was conducted by RAND Education, a unit of the RAND Corporation.

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