Dr. Rachell N. Anderson
The Summer Slide is not a new dance nor a ride in the amusement park but it’s real. It’s the loss of academic skills and knowledge over the course of summer vacation. Summer academic loss is pronounced in math facts, reading and spelling than in other skill areas. Numerous studies showed that on average, students score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer than they do at the beginning of summer. Summer loss for all students is estimated to be equal to about 1 month (Cooper 1996). Educators have known since 1906, that what starts as a hiccup in a 6-year-old's education can be a crisis by the time that child reaches high school. When American students are competing with children around the world who are spending four weeks longer in school each year than we are, larking through summer is a luxury cannot afford.
We are a country that claims to take education seriously but, while we shut down public schools, we don’t shut down other public services. Imagine 2 months of vacationing in mass for them all. There would be no Army, no airports, no police, and no maintenance workers, no librarians; you get the point. You say, that would be ridiculous. Closing schools, it turns out, matter a lot to students and having them shut down all summer critically undermines our community and our nation.
After collecting a century's worth of academic studies, Harris Cooper, at Duke University, concluded that all students lose about a month of progress in math skills each summer, while low-income students slip as many as three months in reading comprehension. Another major study by a team at Johns Hopkins University, examined more than 20 years of data meticulously tracking the progress of students from kindergarten through high school and found that low-income students fell nearly three grade levels during the summer. By ninth grade, summer learning loss could be blamed for roughly two-thirds of the achievement gap separating income groups.
All children lose academic skills during 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.
Educators and parents often voice three concerns about the possible negative impact of summer vacation on student learning. One concern is that children learn best when instruction is continuous. The long summer vacation breaks the rhythm of instruction, leads to forgetting, and requires a significant amount of review of material when students return to school in the fall.
Three approaches to preventing summer learning loss are: extending the school year, providing summer school, and modifying the school calendar. Hazleton and colleagues (1992), suggested that 35 extra days would be needed to produce a noticeable change in student achievement. This idea has gotten no traction.
Summer school was hijacked and gained a bad name because these programs have historically focused on remedial learning for students who have miss the mark during the regular school year. The truth is that these programs may be remedial, accelerated, or enriched learning. They typically differ significantly from the regular school program in terms of curriculum, goals, and rigor and all had a positive impact on the knowledge and skills of students. Students at all grade levels benefitted from summer school, but students in the earliest grades and in secondary school may benefit most. Requiring parent involvement also appeared related to more effective programs.
Finally, summer learning loss also could be used to argue for modifying the school calendar to do away with the long summer break. Many proponents of school calendar change call for modified arrangements in which children might or might not attend school for more days, but the long summer vacation is replaced by shorter cycles of attendance breaks. In 1993, the National Education Commission on Time and Learning urged school districts to develop school calendars that acknowledged differences in student learning and major changes taking place in American society. This idea had gained traction in some parts of the country but not in most.
The evidence is clear: Yes, children do have a summer slide and it takes significant hit on their overall educational achievement.
So, what’s a parent to do?
1. Families and educators should encourage kids to stay engaged in learning throughout the summer. Reading, mathematics, and spelling is the most important areas on which to focus. Teachers’ leading lists and summer reading programs at the Public Libraries are helpful.
2. Stay involved with your child’s learning even over the summer. It can be a bonding exercise and an overwhelmingly positive experience.
3. Use summer programs and summer camps that are effective for remedial, enrichment, or accelerated learning.
© Rachell N. Anderson, Psy. D. April 3, 2014
Dr. Rachell Anderson is a licensed Clinical Psychologist, a Professor Emeritus and author. She taught at the University of Illinois and ran a Private Clinical Practice in Springfield, Illinois for more than 40 years. She now lives and writes in Tunica, Mississippi. Check out her website at WWW.drrachellanderson.com for more articles and books.