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First Comprehensive Research on Summer Slide Released

By Nora Fleming — June 13, 2011 2 min read
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Students can return to school in the fall at least a month behind, on average, where they were in the spring, but high-quality summer programs can help combat this summer learning loss, finds a report released today by the RAND Corp.

“Making Summer Count: How Summer Programs Can Boost Children’s Learning” is the first comprehensive evaluation of past studies and new research on summer learning loss and summer programs for K-8 students. The research, supported by The Wallace Foundation, offers findings on the nature of summer learning loss and its disproportionate impact on low-income students (particularly in reading), characteristics of successful summer programs that can combat the summer slide, and suggestions for districts that want to implement summer programs but have funding barriers that make implementation a challenge.

The best summer programs have small classes, encourage regular attendance, provide individualized instruction, and offer a combination of academic and enrichment activities, RAND researchers conclude. While good summer programs have seen results in reducing summer learning loss, many districts cut them given the additional funding needed to support them.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, cuts to summer programs may be on the rise this summer as districts run out of federal stimulus money and other funding streams used to support them. Yet according to RAND, there are currently 100 sources that can be used for summer programs; districts and communities just need to think more creatively. The report suggests community-based organizations, use of volunteer services and instructors like AmeriCorps members, and reallocation of federal funding streams may be solutions to building the quality and scope of these programs.

While the report draws some conclusions about summer programs and summer learning loss, there are still research holes that need to filled, researchers Jennifer Sloan McCombs and Catherine Augustine said in a follow-up conference call on the report late last week. Studies have shown that while high-quality summer programs can reduce summer slide, these effects have only been shown to last for two years, and there have been no studies yet as to whether attendance for consecutive summers can have longer-lasting impact, said Sloan McCombs. Additionally, current research has focused more on how summer programs can improve academic performance, and not how they might affect other outcomes like behavior/attitudes, social skills, or future plans, which can also be important results of summer programs, she said.

More work on summer programs’ combating learning loss are already in the works. Next month, The Wallace Foundation will be announcing specifics on their plans to work with roughly a half dozen school districts around the country in facilitating high-quality summer programs and assessing their results.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Beyond School blog.