Every year, teachers face a real challenge: how to beat the “summer slide.” It’s a reality for schools across the country and in many parts of the world. But what is it exactly, and how can you help your students avoid it?
What Is the Summer Slide?
The summer slide is the way in which some students seem to regress academically during the summer months. In schools that close for a few months every summer, students often lose some of the educational gains they’ve achieved throughout the school year. This summer learning loss is typically measured in subjects like reading or math but could be anecdotally observed in social skills and even classroom discipline. This often means teachers spend the first part of each school year re-teaching the same content students learned the previous year. The problem is most severe among younger children and is exacerbated in low-income families. This slide is expected to be even more severe over the summer of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and early closing of schools.
Summer Slide Statistics
For those who haven’t experienced this problem firsthand, summer slide may seem like a minor inconvenience, at worst. After all, how bad can it really be? The statistics show that this problem is significant and must be addressed if we want to set our children up for success in their schooling and beyond.
One of the earliest formal studies of summer slide was a paper first published in 1996 in the Review of Educational Research. In this study, it was found that summer achievement loss, as measured by test scores, was equal to “about one month on a grade-level equivalent scale, or one-tenth of a standard deviation relative to spring test scores.” This same study also found that while middle-class students actually improved their reading skills over summer break, low-income students saw the opposite effect.
Fortunately, we’ve seen some improvement since this study was published, but not nearly enough to correct the problem.
The Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) found in 2018 that on average, “students show a drop of between 3-5 RIT points, relative to gains of 4-16 RIT points during the school year.” This loss for third-graders equates to roughly 20 percent in reading and 27 percent in math. For seventh-graders, the numbers are even more troubling: 36 percent in reading and 50 percent in math. Their predictions for the COVID-19 slide are even more concerning.
The National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) spent some time studying the causes of this phenomenon. By their estimates, the gap in academic achievement between high-income and low-income students is now about 30-40 percent higher than it was a generation ago. They also found that nine out of ten teachers spend the first several weeks of each school year reteaching subjects covered during the prior year. In addition to educational achievement, it appears that nutrition also degrades during the summer months for minority students and low-income children.
How to Help Your Students Beat the Summer Slide
Fortunately, there are several ways to combat this learning loss. Here are a few tips to send home with students at the end of the school year.
Reading Is Key
One of the best ways to retain reading skills is to practice reading daily. Summer reading lists, library programs, and other reading-focused activities are an excellent way for students to stay engaged in reading through the summer months. Remember that some low-income families may not have access to books at home, so providing them with resources that can help them attain these materials through the summer is a great way to encourage reading.
Don’t Forget Math
In addition to reading skills, math skills decline sharply through the summer months. Fortunately, there is plenty of math found in many everyday activities. Encourage students to “find the math” in their daily routines and use it to practice their skills. Encourage them to calculate shopping discounts and how to make change when checking out in a store. Show them the math involved in a baseball game that they can watch on TV at home. Encourage them to practice fractions with cooking and baking recipes. Show them the math involved in board games like Yahtzee, Monopoly, and others that they may already have at home.
Educational Apps and Games
For those students who have access to technology during the summer months, educational apps and games might be a great way to practice their skills. Look for free apps you can recommend to your students that are appropriate for their skill level. There are several resources with extensive lists, including GoKid, FamilyEducation, and Digital Trends.
Students who have the opportunity should try to take advantage of educational outings such as trips to museums, summer camp programs, and other local resources. Do some research into low-cost or free programs in your area, and provide your students with a list of options they might enjoy. Public libraries are an excellent place to start.
Of course, there’s no way to completely prevent the detrimental impacts of the summer slide. Combatting this problem requires voluntary involvement from students and parents alike, and you’re unlikely to get 100 percent participation from your class. But if a few resources can help even a few of your students retain their learning or even get ahead for the next school year, it will be well-worth the effort.
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