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Winning the Battle Against Summer Learning Loss

Jayne Matthews Hopson | 6/6/2013, 9:16 p.m.

Research shows poor and minority students who already lag behind their wealthier, white peers are at a higher risk for summer learning loss. Educators have long been aware summer learning loss is a tremendous waste of time, money and academic energy. However, according to a recent study what is most disturbing about summer learning loss is the cumulative academic impact. "Over time, the difference between the summer learning rates of low-income and higher-income students contributes substantially to the achievement gap.”

The Rand Education Foundation funded a report titled “Making Summer Count: How Summer Programs Can Boost Children’s Learning.” This comprehensive study covers a number of factors that should be considered when planning an effective summer learning program, including cost, location, staffing, curriculum development and evaluation methodology.

Of particular interest to parents and guardians looking for ways to stem summer learning loss is the section titled Components of Quality Summer Learning Programs. Topics include smaller class size, differentiated instruction, high-quality instruction, aligned school year and summer curricula, engaging and rigorous programming, maximized participation and attendance, and parental involvement.

Smaller class size is thought to "provide teachers with more time to work individually with students and to create greater opportunities to differentiate instruction based on student needs.

Research has found that small class size is associated with program effectiveness; programs in which class size was capped at 20 students were more effective in producing achievement gains.”

Programs intended to offer individualized instruction were more effective than classes without differentiated lessons. Similarly, experts recommend that teachers work with small learning groups. When faced with large class sizes and a broad range of ability levels, differentiation is a challenge. Nevertheless, every effort should be made to deliver summer programs with smaller class size.

High-quality instruction is another important component of a successful summer program. The report found that giving preference to teachers who are highly motivated and effective during the regular school year was directly related to improved achievement. Also recommended, is to give teachers professional support and guidance to maximize the quality of their instruction.

“Aligning the school-year and summer curricula also may improve the effectiveness of summer programming. This content alignment can take two forms. First, the content of summer programs might be aligned with that of the prior grade to provide remediation on core concepts that students have failed to master.

Second, the content could align to the upcoming school year so that students have previewed core concepts and have a head start toward mastery.” This approach has the potential to not only reduce summer learning loss it could give struggling students an academic advantage in the fall.

According to the report “Many of the experts recommend expanding the curriculum beyond remediation. This recommendation is intended to promote comprehensive programs that go beyond 'drill-and-kill' instruction and provide students with (1) expanded learning through innovative instruction that accelerates learning and (2) opportunities for enrichment.

There are two reasons for this recommendation. First, for students to benefit from additional instruction, they must attend. Providing students with interesting, engaging enrichment opportunities is considered a method of promoting attendance in voluntary programs.

Second, some experts also want the instructional methods and experiences of summer to feel different for students and to propel students forward in their learning.”

Student participation and attendance are necessary to improve academic outcomes— students must be active participants in order to benefit from the instruction. “Recruiting students into the program and then maintaining their attendance is critical. Options for recruiting include mandating the program and rewarding participation with incentives such as payments, prizes, parental pledges, parental benefits, and bus passes.

Not surprisingly, programs that encourage and receive strong parental involvement are the most successful at stemming summer learning loss. “There are a number of reasons that involving parents might be an effective component of a summer program. First, gaining parental buy-in for a program should increase enrollment and attendance.

Second, outreach to parents can include information about methods of expanding learning opportunities in the home, which could increase at-home learning as well.”

Jayne Matthews Hopson is an education writer who believes education matters because "only the educated are free."