Would you like to fix the academic gaps between lower income students and middle class students in reading and math? The best way to do this is to develop strategies to avoid the “summer slump”.
Students have not always attended school 180 to 190 days. Juliet Lapidos investigated the history of the school calendar in 2007. The current calendar of school days began in the early 1900s. Prior to that, cities had long school years (Chicago – 240 days, Detroit – 260 days, etc.) and rural areas had shorter school years (5-6 months). In rural areas the calendar allowed time for planting, cultivating and harvesting. Then, in the early 1900s, cities and rural areas compromised and adopted calendars similar to those of today (180-190 days).
Numerous studies have explored the summer slide, summer setback and summer slump. No matter what the name is – the result is the same….loss of academic skills over the summer break. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan has described summer learning loss as “devastating”. Cooper’s study states that school summer breaks will cause the average student to lose up to one month of instruction, with disadvantaged students being disproportionately affected (Cooper, 1996).
In one of the most striking studies, Alexander et al. (2007) found that all students, those from disadvantaged homes and those who were not disadvantaged, made similar achievement gains during the school year. However, the disadvantaged students fell significantly behind in reading during the summer. Most researchers cite the fact that disadvantaged students do not have access to books during the summer months as a primary reason for the gap.
Perhaps the most devastating news of all is that the damage for the disadvantaged students is cumulative! Alexander and Entwisle from Johns Hopkins University (2007) found that by the end of 5th grade, disadvantaged children had fallen more than two years behind non-disadvantaged students in reading and one and one-half years behind them in mathematics. Gaps of this magnitude can be insurmountable to disadvantaged students and their teachers.
As a former teacher and school administrator, this is a very difficult situation with which to come to terms. Disadvantaged students who do not have access to books during the summer are unable to keep pace with their non-disadvantaged counterparts and begin to fall further and further behind. Educators watch as the gap occurs, becomes cumulative, student frustration begins and builds and finally the student loses interest in their own learning.
Reading is not the only subject affected by the summer slump. All students lose grade-level math skills during the summer if they do not participate in educational activities. (Cooper, 1996) In fact, some research shows that losses in mathematics are greater than those in reading. In many schools teachers spend anywhere from one month to two months reviewing and re-teaching material from the previous year.
How can we as educators, work to combat this summer thief that robs so many disadvantaged students of their ability to compete with their non-disadvantaged counterparts?
In reading, students need to read, read, read! netTrekker and icurio have a wide variety of ebooks available to students, searchable by the keyword “ebook”. If students are close to a public library, that is also an option to access books. Teachers can end the school year by holding a book talk – sharing information about various books to gain student interest in reading.
In mathematics, summer provides a multitude of opportunities for students to practice their skills. It’s important to keep the practice fun. The 2012 Summer Olympics offers a chance for students to be involved in the medal count, times of the athletes and possible world records. Students can monitor, predict and project mathematical information for their favorite baseball team during the summer. netTrekker and icurio have over 300 resources from NCTM Illuminations and additional resources from Texas Instruments.
Educators need to plan fun summer activities and work with parents to ensure that they are carried out. Summer suggested activities, summer reading lists, etc. are all important to reducing the gap that the school calendar creates. Our students are counting on us!
Alexander K., Entwistle D., and Olsen, L. (2007). Lasting Consequences of the Summer Learning Gap. American Sociological Review, no. 72, 167-180.
Cooper H., Nye B., Linsey J., et al. (1996). The Effects of Summer Vacation on Achievement Test Scores: A Narrative and Meta-Analytic Review. Review of Educational Research, no. 66, 227-268.
Lapidos, J (2007). Do Kids Need a Summer Vacation?, retrieved from: www.slate.com