What We Know About Summer Learning Loss: An Update

July 6, 2020 • Filed under News

Educators are discovering how summer vacation affects learning.

Posted Jul 06, 2020

Kids in the U.S. are well into the lazy days of summer.

Summer vacation – and in some cases, distance learning that felt like summer vacation!– started early this year for many youths when schools closed to slow the spread of the corona virus. For most kids, summer vacation marks a time when they are less engaged in educational pursuits like reading, math and problem solving. And with camps and day cares closed in many parts of the country, more kids than ever are spending extra time at home, and likely in front of screens.

For decades, the general research consensus has been that summer vacations lead to a “summer slide,” where students forget some of what they learned over the previous school year. A systematic review of 39 studies published in 1996 found summer learning loss equaled about one month of classroom learning, and students tended to regress more in math skills compared to reading skills. It also found that students from middle- and upper-class families improved in reading over the summer, while students from lower-income families regressed.

But emerging research on the “summer slide” calls into question these findings. A more recent study finds that the years before kindergarten lead to the greatest inequality in children’s school performance, and this gap shrinks in the early years of elementary school, even with summer vacations. This study also points out flaws in the original research that established this “summer slide.”

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