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Summer Learning Loss

Summer Learning Loss

7 January, 2016

Summer learning loss is the loss in academic skills and knowledge over the course of summer vacation.

The loss in learning differs across grade level, subject matter, and family income. A common finding across numerous studies is that on average, students score lower on standardized tests at the end of the summer than they do at the beginning of summer (on the same test). Summer loss for all students is estimated to be the same to about 1 month (Cooper 1996), but this differs across subject matter:

Mathematics – 2.6 months of grade-level equivalency loss
Reading- Varies across socioeconomic status or SES. Low income students generally lose about 2 months of reading achievement. Middle income students experience slight gains in reading performances.

For over a century, scholars have determined that summer vacation is a time when students’ rate of academic development declines relative to the school year. All children lose academic skills during the summer months, and family (SES) is highly correlated to the level of academic growth or deteriorate in the summer months. Two-thirds of the academic achievement gap in reading and language found among high school students has been explained through the learning loss that occurs during the summer months of the primary school years.

Magnitude of the Problem

The United States has a K-12 public school enrollment roughly 48 million, of which only 9.2 percent attend summer school programs. These summer school programs typically vary significantly from the regular school program in terms of curriculum, goals, and rigor. Because summer school programs are not mandatory, self-selection also confounds the effects of attending. Due to these differences, most summer school programs have not been effective in reducing the achievement gap between low-SES and high-SES youth, and in some cases actually exacerbate the gaps. For those low-SES students who do not have access to high quality summer learning opportunities, the personal effect is significant.

The early learning gap among low-SES students, which is predominantly driven by summer learning loss in the elementary school years, casts a long achievement shadow. When compared to high-SES youth, the low-SES youth are “more likely to enter adulthood without high school certification (36 percent versus 3 percent at age twenty-two) and less likely to attend a four-year college (7 percent versus 59 percent, also at age twenty-two).”

The college wage premium doubled from 1967 to 1997, while the dropout penalty similarly doubled. In an economy that is increasingly unaccommodating of low-skill workers, joblessness and declining wages are related to growth in ghetto poverty. In characterizing the U.S. poverty population, John Iceland revealed that “poor African-American children are less likely to escape poverty than others – 1 in 3 were still poor at ages 25 to 27, as compared to 1 in 12 white children.” While no agreement has been reached on a model to explain this insufficient mobility, some research has provided the strongest support for the economic resources model, “where parents’ lack of money and time hinders the ability to invest in children’s education.” The correlation between SES and educational attainment thus has significant implications for the likelihood of low-SES children escaping poverty.

Vulnerable Learners

Cooper’s (1996) study indicates that the gap in the learning cycle which occurs during summer vacation is more noticeable for children that are less advantaged. Children who are the most susceptible are those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, ethnic minorities and students with exceptionalities. Furthermore, it is predominantly literacy related skills that are affected the most.

In a study conducted by Kim (2006) an intervention was planned to provide children with effective summer learning experiences and to enhance the reading abilities of minority student’s and struggling readers. The results of the study indicate that the most substantial reading gains occurred for disadvantaged students while students from middle to high socio-economic upbringings remained stable on standardized measures of reading (Kim, 2006). Such findings are also consistent with a recent review by Guryan and Kim (2010) whereby a summer reading intervention was done for low-income Latino children. Low-income parents often lack the resources to provide children with enough reading materials needed to reinforce important literacy skills. Moreover, children who are English language learners need additional exposure to print material, which may be a challenge for children in homes where English is not the native language (Guryan and Kim, 2010).