As ThinkStretch has continued an enthusiastic campaign championing the benefits of summer learning, we’ve found, through working with hundreds of schools and tens of thousands of students, that the summer slide can be difficult to overcome. Families, schedules and opportunities vary widely and a one-size fits all solution isn’t always possible. But we’ve also learned that summer learning can help improve a student’s school performance and retention of skills. And recently, the results of a study conducted by the Wallace Foundation align closely with what we’ve learned.
The National Summer Learning Project is a six year effort by the Wallace Foundation to quantify the benefits of two voluntary, consecutive summers of school district academic instruction and enrichment activities on low income students’ success in school. The first results of the six year study are now available and indicate a mix of positive and neutral results across math, reading and socio-emotional outcomes.
We’re excited to see that academic outcomes measured by the study showed positive impacts on mathematics scores for students. Previous studies have shown all students lose some math skills over the summer, and this study now reaffirms that summer learning programs help students retain math skills. Studies have also shown that only some students lose reading skills which might attribute to the neutral results for students’ reading outcomes.
We believe there is a large and influential role that family engagement plays in summer learning opportunities. Unfortunately, this study does not address the role of family engagement in a student’s academic success, though it does reinforce our finding that families are extremely willing to commit voluntary time to summer learning. While summer has proven to be a source of high anxiety for parents as they search for productive activities for their students, a unique opportunity is presented when summer activities are associated with their school district.
As the study progresses, it will be interesting to evaluate the level of summer learning occurring in the control group. The educational community has long recognized the positive role of summer learning in both reading and math. It is encouraged by schools, libraries and community groups, often with free book giveaways. ThinkStretch and other researchers have shown that free choice summer reading can be as effective as summer school at maintaining reading levels.
We commend the Wallace Foundation and the school districts of Boston, Dallas, Duval, Pittsburgh, and Rochester NY for the innovative efforts and rigorous study of the important issue of summer learning loss on low income students. As a strong supporter of summer learning opportunities for all students, we’re happy to see that the core foundations of our summer learning program are bolstered with the first results from the National Summer Learning Project. We look forward to following the ongoing research into best practices in the field of summer learning.