What We Know: Summer Learning Loss

Each fall, students return to their schools fresh off summer experiences and ready to learn. Teachers welcome the opportunity to build on the previous year’s achievements. Analysis has shown, however, that students often show up in the fall behind where they left off in June. Over the summer, students lose as much as 25% of the previous school year’s learning, and the typical loss is equivalent to approximately one month of school. What’s more, this loss is even more extreme for lower-income students, who typically have access to fewer resources for learning during the summer.

New research suggests this effect will likely be amplified by the early end of the school year this year (called the “COVID slide”), with students arriving in the fall with only 70% of their typical reading gains and less than 50% of their typical math learning gains.

Even as new online learning options are rolled out, with students unexpectedly out of school—possibly through the remainder of the school year—many schools and families may be concerned about the increased loss of learning through this spring and summer.

Current Concerns and the Challenge Ahead

With little to no time to prepare, many schools are working to get effective, engaging content in front of students as quickly as possible. Without much preexisting infrastructure for online learning, the challenges inherent in this quick adjustment have been pronounced. Even as students begin to engage in tasks and work provided by schools, educators at the school, district, and state level have acknowledged that the experience isn’t the same as what students would have encountered in school. End of year assessments have been cancelled, and AP exams have been adjusted to only include content that had been taught through the end of February. With a typical summer leading to about a month of lost learning, the potential of three additional months out of school could lead to two months of lost learning—or more.

It’s undeniable that students will leave this school year with a vastly different educational experience than they have in the past—and teachers are already concerned about how to address those learning gaps in the fall, when they will inherit a cohort of students who have not, in many ways, fully completed the grade before.

What Students and Families Can Do

Successful efforts to reduce summer learning loss provide a helpful roadmap for the academic challenges teachers and students are currently encountering. Research has shown that academic engagement over the summer effectively reduces summer learning loss. Analysis showed that summer reading and math programming raised test scores and reduced the learning loss students experienced over the summer. This research showed that programs were most effective when incorporating high-quality instructional strategies, and when students spent more time on task, and when students were engaged consistently throughout the summer. The same is likely true for the current time frame: with excellent instruction and engagement, students can stay academically on track even while out of school.

What high-quality instructional moves can families make at home? The first is to identify the gaps: what were the skills and learning your student had not yet mastered this year that may be important in the future? By both assessing their progress so far and looking ahead to what they did not get to learn, you can develop a comprehensive assessment of what work is needed in the months ahead.

Our Approach to the Challenge

We’ve dug into the research. We know that summer learning loss is more pronounced in the upper grades, and more significant in math when compared to reading. While in second and third grade, summer learning loss is relatively mild, by seventh and eighth grade, students are losing nearly half the math growth they made during the school year.

We’re focused on how to keep our students academically prepared for the fall—both in terms of ACT and SAT preparation and in terms of the core academic skills necessary to keep them on track in high school and college. We’re ensuring our instructors are prepared to lead students through deep dives into the core math academic skills that will support their progress when they return to the classroom and when they take college entrance exams. Our instructors are delivering engaging, personalized content to ensure that students won’t return to classrooms unprepared for the next year’s work.

Matthew Pietrafetta

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