Students sitting outside under a tree with their teacher

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June 19, 2015

Summer Learning Day: Stopping the Summer Slide

Photo by diego cervo/Fotolia

Today is Summer Learning Day, when various education stakeholders work together to “elevate the importance of keeping kids learning, safe, and healthy every summer,” according to the National Summer Learning Association.

Of course, the impact of summer learning loss, also known as the “summer slide,” is too big to be addressed in one day alone. The average student loses so much of what was initially learned that upon returning in the fall, he or she is—in terms of academic gains—one month behind where he or she left off in the spring. And research suggests that this learning loss is both disproportionate and cumulative: Low-income students lose ground in reading, while their higher income peers often gain. Over time, these periods of differential learning rates for low- and higher-income students contribute to the achievement gap.

Districts and other summer learning providers are looking for ways to help ensure that students continue to sharpen their skills over the summer months and use summer learning as a tool to narrow the achievement gap, but funding has proven to be the greatest barrier.

RAND is conducting the first-ever assessment of the effectiveness of large-scale, voluntary, district-run, summer learning programs serving low-income elementary students. The assessment is part of an ongoing, comprehensive summer learning study to help understand what makes summer learning programs effective and what factors influence student outcomes.

Early results of the assessment show that students who attended the five-week programs entered school in the fall with stronger mathematics skills than those who did not.

Additionally, five factors had a statistically significant association with mathematics or reading outcomes:

  1. consistent attendance
  2. more hours of instruction
  3. teachers with grade-level experience
  4. orderliness of summer sites (clear procedures for student behavior and discipline)
  5. instructional quality.

Future RAND reports will explore whether these near-term gains persist beyond the fall (a question that remains unanswered), delve deeper into how summer learning programs impact school-year grades, attendance, and testing, and explore how to implement high-quality programs. These results may help districts, summer learning providers, and policymakers make better decisions about funding and implementing summer learning programs—and help stop the summer slide.

— Deanna Lee