Addressing Summer Learning Loss (All Summer ’16) The vast majority of low-income children find that when schools close for the summer, learning opportunities, healthy meals, and medical care are no longer available.  Deprived of healthy stimulation, these children lose a significant amount of the skills they learned during the school year.  Researchers call it summer learning loss and while it impacts students at all grade and income levels, its effect is strongest among low-income children (After School Alliance, 2010; Von Drehle,2010; The Wallace Foundation, 2010; Wongkee, 2010; National Summer Learning Association, 2009a; Miller, 2007). “

Studies dating back to 1906 have consistently found that most students receive lower scores on the same standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they earned at the beginning of summer ( After School Alliance, 2010; Wongkee, 2010; McLaughlin & Smink, 2009; National Summer Learning Association, 2009a ).  Studies have also found that the effect of summers without learning is cumulative and that low-income children fall further and further behind their peers who participate in summer learning opportunities every year (Children, Youth and Families Education and Research Network, 2010; Terzian et al., 2009). “

Alexander, Entwisle, and Olson’s (2007) study of summer learning loss used data from the Baltimore Beginning School Study.  Their sample included a representative random sample of 790 school children whose educational progress was monitored from first grade through age 22. The researchers analyzed data from reading comprehension tests administered to the same students twice yearly (fall and spring), enabling them to isolate gains made during the school year from those made during the summer. They found that when test scores reflected mostly school year learning, low-income students kept pace with their higher-income classmates.

Downey, von Hippel, and Broh (2004) used data from 20,000 children included in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Cohort, to examine high- and low-income students’ learning rates during the school year and over the summer months.  Students’ reading and math test score gains were split into seasons so that differences between the school year and the summer months could be analyzed.  Results indicated that the achievement gap was already present before school began.

Research suggests that minority students with low socioeconomic status (working class poor) are at a distinct disadvantaged to their more affluent peers (middle to upper class).  Based on responses from over 6,600 households to the National Survey of America’s Families, Terzian and colleagues (2009) reported that children living in non-poor households (200 percent or above the federal poverty line) were more likely than children from poor households (below 200 percent of the poverty line) to participate in summer programs (29 percent versus 18 percent).

While low income, low SES parents generally want the same kinds of enriching experiences for their children as do well-off parents, they often lack the means to provide them (e.g., Chin and Phillips 2004).  Below are some relatively inexpensive ways to keep your scholars engaged during the summer months.

Suggestions to Divert Summer Learning Loss:

1.  Contact your child’s school, ask specific questions about what books are “just right” for your child.  Your child’s school should be able to tell you exactly what reading level your child is on.  

2.  Based on this information, ask your child what he/she is interested in reading.  Take this information and buy or check out “just right” books for your child.  If you get books that are above your child’s reading level, these types of books do not help your child comprehend better.  Make sure the books that you select are on your child’s level.

3.  Contact your local library.  The libraries do an excellent job with creating summer readinglists in conjunction with the area schools.

4.  Do exciting things with your kids.  i.e. Family vacations, trips to historic sites, nature walks, vacation bible school, all activities to keep the academic juices flowing.

5.  Turn learning, and reading comprehension into a family activity.  Read the same books as your child, and have “book talks” with your children about the books that you read.  This helps the students to keep pace, and also allows for you to focus on important topics in your child’s reading, i.e. plot, theme, specific character outcomes, predictions, inference, etc.

6.  Going outside to play can be accompanied with a writing activity describing what your child did during playtime.

Parents, please don’t think because school isn’t in session, that your kids should not still be learning.

Works Cited:

Afterschool Alliance.  (2010).  Summer: A Season When Learning is Essential. Issue Brief No. 43. ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED511990.

Alexander, K.L., Entwisle, D.R., & Olson, L.S. (2007). Lasting Consequences of the Summer Learning Gap.  American Sociological Review, 72(2), 167-180.

Chin, Tiffani and Meredith Phillips. 2004. “Social Reproduction and Child-Rearing Practices: Social Class, Children’s Agency, and the Summer Activity Gap.” Sociology of Education 77:185–210.

Children, Youth and Families Education and Research Network. (2010). Research Spotlight: Programs to Overcome the Summer Learning Gap. Retrieved from

Downey, D.B., von Hippel, P.T., & Broh, B. (2004). Are Schools the Great Equalizer? School and Non-School Sources of Inequality in Cognitive Skills. American Sociological Review, 69(5), 613-635.

McLaughlin, B., & Smink, J. (2009). Summer Learning: Moving from the Periphery to the Core. The Progress of Education Reform, 10(3). Denver, CO: Education Commission of the States. Retrieved from

Miller, B.M. (2007). The Learning Season: The Untapped Power of Summer to Advance Student Achievement.  Paper commissioned by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. Retrieved from

National Summer Learning Association. (2009a). Doesn’t Every Child Deserve a Memorable Summer?  Retrieved from

Terzian, M., Moore, K.A., & Hamilton, K. (2009). Effective and Promising Summer Learning Programs and Approaches for Economically-Disadvantaged Children and Youth: A White Paper for the Wallace Foundation. Retrieved from

The Wallace Foundation. (2010). America After 3PM. Special Report on Summer: Missed Opportunities, Unmet Demand. Retrieved from

Von Drehle, D. (2010). The Case Against Summer Vacation. Time, August 2, 2010.

Wongkee, L. (2010). Summer Slide – Loss of Learning on Summer Break. The Truth About the Learning Gap- Do Kids Regress in the Summer? Retrieved from–loss-of-learning-in-the-summer-a218969.