Public school district leaders confronted with achievement gaps understand how summer learning loss serves to further exacerbates such learning gaps. The research suggests that summer learning regression begins to set in after three continuous weeks without instruction. In the absence of a year-round school schedule, districts must design summer programming that offsets the summer slide students experience. Traditional summer school is necessary for low performing students otherwise it has been found that districts will experience a widening of the achievement gap over time.
Over the past four years in Norwalk our District has developed a mandatory 5-6-week summer learning program for students scoring below key reading benchmarks based off of middle-of-the -year MOY assessment data. Unless students participate, they are required to repeat the grade level.
Our results are tangible. Not only has our achievement gap narrowed between high needs and non-high needs students, we have seen nearly a 50% reduction in the number of elementary students requiring mandatory summer school. In achieving this, we have been able to expand our summer learning program from K-3 in 2016 to K-6 in 2019. Our summer school model is simple and effective and I have provided the primary components below:
Design a summer school policy: In the absence of policy, districts have less authority to mandate summer school on students and families. I recently designed a summer learning policy that sets forth the general qualifiers for mandatory summer school and reference Connecticut statute where applicable. Since financial resources and student assessment results may vary from year-to-year, it is important to design a general summer learning framework in which the district has some flexibility in terms of benchmarks and program scale.
Decentralize summer learning by school: Large, centralized summer school centers are ineffective. Adults ultimately work with students that they do not know. Adults and children must reorient. This disconnection can and should be avoided. Instead, localize summer programs to individual schools. In this way, schools are incentivized to grow their own students. In addition, schools are more inclined to raise student achievement during the school year which will reduce summer school class sizes. However, goals and performance measures ought to be tightly coupled.
Centralize the program curriculum and delivery: Here the “what” and the “how” are determined by the District and not the school. Given the opportunity summer learning affords districts, it is essential to maintain a tight instructional focus. At least with regard to the summer curriculum and delivery, districts ought not to loosely couple the instructional system. Direct a tightly coupled instructional-management system.
Planning, Communication, Partnerships: Planning for the next summer school cycle must begin by December of the previous year. This generally coincides with a district’s budget proposal. Communication to the Board about the summer program expectation is key in advance of the request for funding. Also, families should be made aware of the potential for mandatory summer school as soon as the middle of the year when data becomes available and the district is comfortable setting the cut score for mandatory participation. Families are more inclined to support summer programs that offer both academic and non-academic opportunities for children. Therefore, we have worked with partners to parlay an afternoon outdoor camp style learning program with the morning academic remediation offering.
The summer months cause a learning gap that is tough to bridge. According to iD Tech, students lose two months of reading skills and two and a half months of math skills during the summer. One of the main reasons for summer learning loss is the disconnection from school. Age and income are some of the factors that compound the issue. For lower-income families, access to educational materials and devices slows or comes to a halt. This is referred to as the “faucet theory.” I hope that the strategies provided above are helpful to you as you consider summer learning loss in your system.