Summer Activities Produce Math, Reading Gains, Research Suggests

September 03, 1997 4 min read
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Summer is a time when student academic achievement generally slopes downward, research has shown. But a new study presented at the American Psychological Association’s annual conference here suggests that some summer activities can help improve children’s test scores.

In the study, researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill tested 250 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders in two suburban North Carolina elementary schools at the end of one school year and again at the beginning of the next school year.

During the summer break, the children engaged in a range of activities, including watching television, attending summer camp, and visiting libraries, churches, and shopping malls. The researchers did not judge the worth of each individual activity.

Overall, the students made modest gains on reading and math tests that were given at the conclusion and then at the start of the school year, the researchers found.

Children from wealthier backgrounds tended to make more progress in reading than students from less affluent families, the study found.

Because many students continue to learn--though not at the same pace--when not in school, teachers may not need to spend the first few weeks of school reviewing material from the previous year, said Judith L. Meece, a lead researcher for the study.

“We can no longer assume that kids have a setback in the summer,” Ms. Meece said.

But Harris Cooper, a professor of psychology at the University of Missouri-Columbia and an expert on summertime learning, said the study’s results cannot be extrapolated to the entire student population because the research sample was largely made up of middle-class students. No control group was used.

In fact, Mr. Cooper said Ms. Meece’s study confirms previous findings that children who come from middle-class families may buck the overall trend of declining achievement during the summer months. “When you send kids to academically oriented activities over the summer, you can expect academics to go up,” he said.

Certain children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder are more likely than children without ADHD to commit crimes as adults, according to research presented at the APA’s 105th convention, which was held Aug. 15-19.

In preliminary findings from a longitudinal study, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, followed 230 men in their 20s who had been diagnosed with ADHD since 1974. They found that children who were hyperactive and impulsive—two subgroups of the behavioral disorder--were four times more likely to be arrested as adults than children without ADHD.

By comparison, children with ADHD who were categorized as inattentive were twice as likely to be arrested as children without the disorder.

“Kids with hyperactivity and impulsivity are most at risk for getting in trouble,” said Leslie Babinski, an author of the Berkeley study who is now an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Gathering information on the World Wide Web can be fun, but many people who chronically surf the Internet are addicted--and for other than information-gathering purposes, a study presented here contends.

For “Pathological Internet Use: Psychologists examine who is hooked on the Net and why,” Kimberly S. Young, a psychology professor at the University of Pittsburgh, interviewed 396 people who were deemed pathological computer users.

People were defined as addicts if they were, for example, preoccupied with the Internet, had trouble controlling their use, lied about their preoccupation to family members or friends, and felt anxious when not using the Internet.

The researchers found that pathological users are typically Internet novices.

Forty-two percent had no permanent jobs, such as high school students, homemakers, or college students; 39 percent worked in low-tech fields; and only 8 percent of the sample worked in high-tech jobs.

The study also found that Internet addicts were most attracted to Web sites not for information but for social support, sexual fulfillment, and to create a persona.

“In cyberspace, a nonsexual person can be sexual, a nonassertive person can be forceful, or an aloof person can be gregarious,” Ms. Young said.

One of the most-talked about subjects during the five-day conference was not research-related, however.

At the opening ceremony, APA officials announced to thousands of audience members that the organization would postpone giving its lifetime-achievement award this year to a renowned psychologist after critics charged that his writings were fascistic.

The New York City-based Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith and the Institute for the Study of Academic Racism in Big Rapids, Mich., have claimed that Raymond B. Cattell, a 92-year-old American psychologist who developed many of the standard intelligence and personality tests used today, also promoted eugenics and racial-supremacist theories in his writings.

Mr. Cattell, in a statement last month, said that his philosophies were not racist and that his critics had taken material out of context. Last month, APA set up a special panel to investigate the groups’ claims.

The APA announcement already has had a ripple effect in education circles. The American Educational Research Association, which has an educational research award named after Mr. Cattell, said last week that it would launch an internal inquiry.

“Clearly we are concerned because AERA stands for justice, and we are deeply committed to equity issues,” James A. Banks, the AERA’s president, said last week.


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