Cover: Every Summer Counts

Every Summer Counts

A Longitudinal Analysis of Outcomes from the National Summer Learning Project

Published Dec 17, 2020

by Jennifer Sloan McCombs, Catherine H. Augustine, John F. Pane, Jonathan Schweig


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Research Questions

  1. What is the longitudinal effect of offering two consecutive summers of voluntary summer programming on student achievement, behavior, and social-emotional outcomes, measured in spring 2017, at the end of the third school year after the second summer of programming?
  2. What factors, including program implementation and student attendance, influence longer-term student outcomes?

The National Summer Learning Project (NSLP) examined the implementation and effectiveness of voluntary summer learning programs developed by five school districts — Boston, Massachusetts; Dallas, Texas; Duval County, Florida; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Rochester, New York — and their local community partners. The study spanned three phases. The RAND research team (1) collected formative data for strengthening the five summer programs in 2011 and 2012; (2) examined student outcomes after one summer (2013) and after two summers of programming (2014 and 2015); and (3) examined student outcomes in spring 2017, at the end of three school years after the second summer of programming. This seventh report in a series summarizes the findings of this third phase in the context of earlier findings and offers implications for policy and practice. Overall longitudinal findings show that, by spring 2017, the academic benefits for high attenders decreased in magnitude and were not statistically significant — although when benchmarked against typical achievement gains at the same grade level, they remained large enough to be educationally meaningful.

Key Findings

Researchers' causal analyses evaluated the effect of offering summer programming, regardless of whether students actually attended the program

  • After the first summer, students offered the program (treatment group students) outperformed control group students on fall mathematics assessments.
  • After the second summer, offering the program did not significantly affect any of the measured outcomes among students in the treatment group.

Researchers used correlational methods to examine how implementation features of the summer program and student attendance related to student outcomes

  • After the first summer, high attenders outperformed control group students in mathematics in the fall and on the subsequent spring 2014 state assessment.
  • After the second summer, high attenders performed better than control group students in mathematics and language arts through spring 2015.
  • Greater amounts of time on task and higher quality of instruction were correlated with better outcomes through spring 2015.
  • After the second summer, high attenders received higher social-emotional skill ratings in the fall than control group students, but that advantage did not persist.
  • Three school years after the second summer of programming, academic benefits for attenders decreased in magnitude and were not statistically significant; however, when benchmarked against typical achievement gains at the same grade level, they remained large enough to be educationally meaningful.


  • Urban districts should consider offering voluntary summer programs as part of their overall efforts to improve outcomes for students from low-income families and with low academic achievement, particularly if they can offer these programs over multiple summers.
  • Districts offering voluntary summer programs that seek to provide academic benefits should offer at least five weeks of programming, and preferably six, with at least three hours of academic instruction per day.
  • To increase program effectiveness and maximize their return on investment, districts should focus on ensuring strong student attendance, productive use of instructional time, and high-quality instruction.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was sponsored by the Wallace Foundation and conducted by RAND Education and Labor.

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