More than half of US students experience summer learning losses five years in a row

July 10, 2020 • Filed under News

by American Educational Research Association

Following U.S. students across five summers between grades 1 and 6, a little more than half (52 percent) experienced learning losses in all five summers, according to a large national study published today. Students in this group lost an average of 39 percent of their total school year gains during each summer. The study appeared in American Educational Research Journal, a peer-reviewed publication of the American Educational Research Association.

“Many children in the U.S. have not physically attended a school since early March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and some have likened the period we’re in now to an unusually long summer,” said study author Allison Atteberry, an assistant professor at the University of Colorado—Boulder. “Because our results highlight that achievement disparities disproportionately widen during the summer, this is deeply concerning.”

“Teachers nationwide are likely wondering how different their classes will be in the coming fall,” Atteberry said. “To the extent that student learning loss plays a larger-than-usual role this year, we would anticipate that teachers will encounter even greater variability in students’ jumping-off points when they return in fall 2020.”

For the study Atteberry and her co-author, Andrew J. McEachin, a researcher at the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research organization, used a database from NWEA, which includes more than 200 million test scores for nearly 18 million students in 7,500 school districts across all 50 states from 2008 through 2016.

The authors found that although some students learn more than others during the school year, most are moving in the same direction—that is, making learning gains—while school is in session. The same cannot be said for summers, when more than half of students exhibit learning losses year after year.

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