A study conducted by Johns Hopkins University researchers estimates that as much as two-thirds of the achievement gap in the elementary grades can be directly traced to learning loss in the summer, or what we call the “summer slide.” With the significant loss of in-person learning over the past 14 months, learning gaps have widened even further as evidenced by the findings shared by PACE and NWEA. Summer 2021 is an opportunity for school districts to expand access to summer learning, when the need has never been greater or more important!
As districts plan for the learning that will take place over the summer, they may be faced with pressures and demands to “think outside of the box” or to reimagine schools in the form of new models for learning. In some ways, this creates unrealistic expectations and can distract from what we know has been effective in promoting student success. Quick fixes, such as programs designed to educate children in a simpler way or off-the-shelf curriculum that pledge large gains for students, are unrealistic. Rather, a balanced approach that includes a blend of academics, social interaction, and enrichment is key to engaging students, increasing their sense of belonging, and unlocking their curiosity and passion for learning.
Summer learning provides a renewed opportunity to invite various stakeholders to the table, including teachers, parents, and community partners, to collaborate as key designers of student learning. Student data should serve as a key factor to identify targeted supports to address inequities. To ensure that the learning over the summer is not a one-off, districts will need to align summer learning to what students will be assessed in in the fall when they are back within the confines of a classroom. Consider leveraging the resources and expertise of key partners like the YMCA, county-wide recreation programs, churches, advocacy groups, social services, and other community-based organizations to expand access to both academic and mental health supports available to students.
Traditional summer school, often enrichment-based, will fall short if academic interventions are not embedded in summer learning opportunities to accelerate learning. Focused on collective efficacy and true collaboration, district teams must design extended learning opportunities that implement high-quality curriculum with fidelity and are aligned to metrics for formative assessments. Highly trained staff with experience and knowledge of the grade-level content must be at the forefront of these summer learning opportunities to accelerate learning and prevent further “summer slide,” as students prepare to return to in-person instruction in the fall. High-dosage tutoring, mental health resources, nutrition programs, high-quality early education, project-based learning, STEM, and research-based credit recovery programs will be key to the success of students this summer. To ensure that these summer learning programs serve students who can most benefit, student outreach will need to be personalized to target and recruit specific groups of students.
Districts will need to take on this new and real challenge, embracing the summer as an opportunity to reengage students, assess their needs, and begin closing the learning gaps that will likely be evident in the new school year. Recognizing that there are no quick fixes, this begins with what we’ve always known works for students – learning and relationships are entwined; advancing student learning begins with grade-level content and support; high expectations and relevant course content increase student engagement; and needs of adults must be addressed to provide safe and supportive learning environments for students.
To support districts in this ever-challenging opportunity, this month’s newsletter will feature tools, strategies, and resources to design summer learning programs that provide the necessary settings to accelerate learning, while advancing equity for our most vulnerable student groups.
Executive Director, CCEE