13 Steps to Stop the Summer Slide

Stop Accumulating Summer Learning Loss

Child reading
jurgita.photography / Getty Images

There are a number of studies about the effects of summer learning loss, sometimes referred to as the "summer slide", on the website for the National Summer Learning Association.

Here are some of the collective findings:  

  • Most students lose about two months of grade-level equivalency in mathematical computation skills over the summer months.
  • Children in low-income households fall behind an average of 2 months in reading during the summer. 
  • The effects of the summer slide are cumulative, with these learning losses building up each summer.
  • Summer learning loss accounts for two-thirds of the 9th grade achievement gap in reading between students from low-income households and their higher-income peers.
  • Students from low-income households with access to books over the summer see significantly more gains in reading scores from spring to fall than students from high-income households with access to books and those from low-income households without access to books.
  • Differences in children’s summer learning experiences during their elementary school years can ultimately impact whether they earn a high school diploma and continue to college.
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Early Planning to Combat Summer Learning Loss

Planning for summer programs requires advance, collaborative and coordinated program design. This will also include data sharing, recruitment, and public relations efforts. 

Participants should take a proactive approach and have conversations about how best to understand the research on summer learning loss for different student populations at all grade levels.

There should be regular and ongoing meetings among summer program providers, the schools, and research professionals about research on summer learning. 

See Planning Resource.

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Coordination with Schools for Leadership

School leadership must be supportive in challenging the summer learning loss. An engaged and involved principal is often a critical link with superintendents and other administrative leaders.  

In addition, engagement from school facility management must be a priority when summer programs are located on school grounds. 

Members of the school leadership team are often key decision-makers in program planning, implementation, assessment, and improvement.

Supportive community leaders are also critical to successful partnerships.

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Use Qualified Teachers

Ideally, staffing for summer programs should come from candidates with experience in academic learning and child/youth/teen development.  

Teachers who are already available during the summer months should be recruited based on their experience at the different grade levels.

In a Wallace Foundation funded study, What Works for Summer Learning Programs for Low-income Children and Youth, the researchers came to the following conclusion:

"Hire experienced, trained teachers to deliver the academic lessons. Four out of five programs that used experienced, trained teachers worked for at least one child or adolescent outcome. Experienced teachers had at least a Bachelor’s degree and a few years of teaching experience."
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Train Teachers for Summer Programs

Summer learning also offers opportunities for staff development through professional development opportunities.

For example, summer learning programs can facilitate team teaching, foster mentoring, and provide joint training opportunities for staff that can be implemented during the school year.

Teachers recognize the importance of summer learning for themselves and for their students.

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Provide Transportation and Meals

Providing transportation and meals may increase budget costs for summer learning programs, but they are often critical to success regardless of whether the offerings are in an urban, suburban, or rural community.

In securing funding there should be a focus on the cost effectiveness in incorporating these two line-items in a summer learning program. Leveraging existing relationships (financial and in-kind) with transportation and food providers who work with schools during the school year can help lower costs in summer learning programs.

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Provide Enrichment Activities

Working with other agencies in communities can complement summer learning programs.

  • Public library programs
  • Organized sports
  • Museums
  • Local attractions

Research shows that increasing the realm of experiences for students at every grade level slows summer learning loss. This is particularly true for low-income families.

In a Wallace Foundation funded study, What Works for Summer Learning Programs for Low-income Children and Youth, the researchers came to the following conclusion:

"Interactive forms of instruction, such as immersion and experiential learning, help to keep students engaged in the material. Engaging students in games, group projects, field trips to historic sites, nature expeditions, and science experiments are all ways to make learning more interesting and applied."

The researchers also suggested:

"Make activities interesting and enjoyable.... Some examples include a debate on current events, use of technology, field trips, hip-hop dance, rap and spoken word, improvisational comedy, art, drama, and storytelling. They also include time for sports and recreational activities to offer students a chance to participate in the physical activities they enjoy."
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Cooperate with Community Partners

Community partners can play an important role in the delivery of summer learning. As each community partner offers different resources, planners should seek to match the support that is best suited for that partner.

Community partners also need to be kept informed so they may develop an understanding of youth development theory and its relationship to learning.

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Design Programs with Length and Duration

Research shows the relationship between the length or duration of a program and its academic impact.  The largest effect sizes on academic outcomes for remedial summer school programs that are between 60 and 120 hours in length.

Research s pecific to reading found out-of-school-time reading programs of between 44 and 84 hours in length had the largest effect on reading outcomes.

Together, these estimates suggest an appropriate program duration of between 60 and 84 hours. 

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Design Small Program and Small Group Instruction

Summer allows planners to change from a prescribed curriculum and use a more leisurely pace. Small programs/Small groups can be organized to meet individualized needs of students at every grade level.

Smaller individualized programs that feature small groups that may be more flexible, able to respond to immediate concerns in a timely manner.

Small programs have greater autonomy in decision making  and in using resources as they become available.

In a Wallace Foundation funded study, What Works for Summer Learning Programs for Low-income Children and Youth, the researchers came to the following conclusion:

"Limit class sizes to 15 or fewer students, with two to four adults per classroom, with one adult being a trained teacher. While not all were successful, five out of nine programs that integrated this strategy worked for at least one child or adolescent outcome."
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Seek Parental Involvement

Parents, caregivers, and other adults can help stem summer slide by reading themselves, as children that see adults in their lives reading often tend to read more themselves.

Parental involvement in summer learning programs, as it is during the regular school year-improves students' academic success.

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Use Research-based Reports in Design

  • All young people experience learning losses when they do not engage in educational activities during the summer. Research spanning 100 years shows that students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning of the summer (White, 1906; Heyns, 1978; Entwisle & Alexander 1992; Cooper, 1996; Downey et al, 2004).
  • Most students lose about two months of grade level equivalency in mathematical computation skills over the summer months. Low-income students also lose more than two months in reading achievement, despite the fact that their middle-class peers make slight gains (Cooper, 1996).
  • More than half of the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income youth can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities. As a result, low-income youth are less likely to graduate from high school or enter college (Alexander et al, 2007).
  • Children lose more than academic knowledge over the summer. Most children—particularly children at high risk of obesity—gain weight more rapidly when they are out of school during summer break (Von Hippel et al, 2007).
  • Parents consistently cite summer as the most difficult time to ensure that their children have productive things to do (Duffett et al, 2004).
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Stay Informed with Program Evaluation

For summer programs to be effective, there must be a approach to evaluation and commitment to program improvement through shared tracking and dissemination of student progress Implementation of a management information system that can track and store student progress System of sharing important documents (i.e., report cards, evaluations, test scores between programs and schools) Collection of program and school feedback through surveys of major stakeholders (i.e., parents, teacher, administrators) C

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Resources: 2016 Funding Guide

The National Summer Learning Association (NSLA), in collaboration with the White House, Civic Nation, and U.S. Department of Education has released a new guide to help state and local leaders identify the most promising funding streams to support summer opportunities and to show how innovative states, districts, and communities have creatively blended public and private funding to develop programs, services and opportunities to meet the needs of young people during the critical summer months.

Additional References


Cooper, H., Charlton, K., Valentine, J. C., & Muhlenbruck, L. (2000). Making the most of summer

school. A meta-analytic and narrative review. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child

Development, 65 (1, Serial No. 260), 1-118.

Cooper, H., Nye, B., Charlton, K., Lindsay, J., & Greathouse, S. (1996). The effects of summer

vacation on achievement test scores: A narrative and meta-analytic review. Review of Educational

Research, 66, 227-268.