The Summer Impact on Student Learning

picBy Nick Rocha – When we think about summers, we typically think about warm beaches, playing outdoors, attending summer camps or going to festivals. Our interactions and experiences during the summer months help to assist in the development of our views of the world around us. It is also a time where “summer melt” is the norm.

This is a popular phrase surrounding the transition from high school to the college level, but there is not a great deal of discussion surround the elementary and secondary levels of summer transition between grade levels. How might the summer months impact learning or the retention of previous material?

There is a significant body of research evidence that shows that students lose considerable ground academically over the summer break. Also known as the summer slide, a typical child loses a little more than 1 months’ worth of skill or knowledge in math, reading, and language arts combined during the summer break (Cooper 1996). The amount that is lost over the summer is impacted by the student’s grade level, skill or mastery in an academic subject, and their socioeconomic status.

Many social scientists and educators would argue that the accessibility of resources and cultural capital over the summer is drastically different between socioeconomic groups. According to research conducted by Alexander, Entwisle, and Olson, “The long term consequences of these income-based summer learning differences appear to be the primary cause of the widening achievement gaps that separate poor minority and white middle class students in the United States” (Borman 2012). Someone who is a part of the poor minority group may not have access to same activities and programs during the summer as compared to their middle class counterpart. In many cases low-income students fall behind their middle-income or higher income peers when the school months start back up.

So what can be done? Educators have advocated for more opportunities and activities over the summer for low-income students. Summer schools or alternative school calendars have seen significant growth in the recent years to encourage students to expand on their math, reading, and science learning. Libraries have developed summer reading programs for youth in their neighborhoods. In addition, there has also been an increase in free or reduced cost summer camp programs that encourage students to get involved with outdoor activities that they might otherwise not experience elsewhere.

Addressing achievement gaps between students over the summer months may be a strong weapon to provide educational equity in our school system and allow students of low-income backgrounds to not fall behind over the summer months.

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