Summer break can lead to learning losses for kids
Lehi • First-grade teacher Jamie Meacham reminds her students to use their "eagle eye" and "back-tracker crab" as they read so they can grasp each word.
"Let's look on the chair no, couch," reads 7-year-old Shanteal Lux, correcting her initial mistake. For that, she gets a high five and a "way to go" from Meacham.
School let out at Eaglecrest Elementary a week ago, but students in Alpine School District's STARS program (Students and Teachers Achieving Reading Success) get one extra month to boost their reading skills at least up to grade level before they return in the fall. Meacham hopes her "super STARS," who were invited to participate because they were not reading at grade level, enter second grade ahead of the pack.
On average, students lose one month of learning during the summer, according to a study released Monday by the nonprofit RAND Corporation and the Wallace Foundation.
What's more troubling, says researcher Catherine Augustine, is that students from low-income families are disproportionately impacted. Their learning losses during the summer when higher-income kids are attending pricey summer camps or reading at home with their parents helps to explain the persistent achievement gap.
"When you really delve into achievement test score results, you see that it's the low-income kids who are losing more knowledge and skills around reading during the summer," says Augustine, co-author of the "Making Summer Count" report. "They don't catch up during the summer, and they lose more ground the next summer. Over time, that loss is cumulative, and it's really hurting these kids."
In Utah, 69 percent of economically disadvantaged students scored "proficient" or better on state language arts exams in 2010 compared with 87 percent of their higher-income peers. There was a similar gap for math and science.
Along the Wasatch Front, many students at Title I schools, which receive federal funds because of the high rate of poverty in their neighborhoods, will be going back to class on Monday for four to six weeks of summer school. Parents typically pay a low fee of around $10 a week.
Districts often offer additional programs, too, such as Alpine's STARS, which is funded through the Alpine School District Foundation. The foundation has raised $1 million for STARS over the past decade.
Although Title I schools are required to offer "extended learning," which may be after school, before school or summer programming, students' participation is voluntary.
"Summer school is the best," says Salt Lake City resident Nancy Flander, who sends her two grandsons to Mountain View Elementary's summer program. "They meet new kids. They keep busy. They don't stay at home and watch the idiot box [television] and be bored."
The most effective summer programs include individualized instruction, parental involvement and small class sizes, the RAND study noted. They also may include "enrichment" or fun activities such as field trips and art projects, that break up academic time and make attendance more appealing.
At Redwood Elementary in West Valley City, the summer program's 150 students must attend class Monday through Thursday to be allowed to attend Friday field trips to such places as Red Butte Gardens and Hill Aerospace Museum. During the week, students also break up math and reading instruction with physical activities and crafts.
"We try to make it fun," says Sheryl Bailey, Redwood's professional learning specialist. "The longer we can give instruction to kids, the better they do. Because we have fewer kids, we can make instruction more interactive."
The summer classes each have about 25 students, she noted, but instruction often is broken into smaller groups of five students and one adult, who may be an aide or a teacher.
Redwood is one of Granite School District's 21 Title I schools. The schools always have offered summer programs but they got a boost this year and last with an influx of federal stimulus money, says Rob Averett, Granite's director of resource development.
"Next year, we will not have that money," he notes. "We are hoping as we've made adjustments in budgets that schools served by Title I next year will continue with their summer programs."
The district, he adds, has seen significant jumps in language arts and math scores for academically at-risk seventh, eighth and ninth graders who attend summer school.
In reviewing other summer programs across the nation, the RAND study estimates that such offerings cost between $1,109 and $2,801 per student for a five-week program that includes food, transportation and facilities. It is less expensive for a school district to provide summer programing than for other providers. And it costs less than education programming during the school year.
The report recommends that administrators think "creatively" about financing, noting there are more than 100 funding sources that can support summer learning programs. Districts also could partner with community organizations to share costs, the study notes.
"Whether you look at it as a social justice issue, in terms of helping these low-income kids, or an efficiency issue, in terms of teachers not having to repeat information from the spring," Augustine says, "those are the benefits that districts and parents and kids get from these summer learning programs."
Read the report
O "Making Summer Count" is available on the Web at:
Avoid summer reading losses
Kindergarten through second grade are critical years for learning to read. During summer breaks, students may lose some of what they have learned if they don't practice. Jamie Meacham, a first-grade teacher in Alpine School District, recommends that parents spend 15 to 20 minutes per day reading with their children, and asking their children to read to them. "Make it fun," she says, and fill in the words that are difficult.