Understanding Summer learning loss
Summer learning loss – or the summer slide – is an educational phenomenon where students lose some of the knowledge, skills and ability they acquired over the school year.
Besides the initial problem breaking the momentum of continual learning – and some lost time – there are a few knock-on effects to consider:
- Students’ scores are lower when they return to school
- Teachers have to spend time re-teaching and retreading subjects, theory and practice before they can move on
- The effort of encouraging students and parents to get involved with learning over the Summer vacation
To get a better understanding of Summer learning loss – how it’s measured, why it happens, and who it affects – let’s take a step back in time to a world before devices, streaming, social media and highspeed internet: 1996, or the dial-up era.
The Foundational Study
The Effect of Summer Vacation on Achievement Test Scores: A Narrative and Meta-Analytic Review is an accurately (albeit lengthy) titled meta-analysis of 39 studies into lost progress over the holiday period.
Here’s a summary of what the researchers found:
The levels of learning loss
Most students lost around one month (on a grade-level equivalent scale) or one-tenth of a standard deviation (relative to Spring test scores) of learning.
When you consider the school year is usually around 9 months, that’s a good portion lost, and a huge chunk to go over again.
Just as might have been expected, students in lower socio-economic areas, communities and families experienced the impact more harshly – we’ll go over the reasoning for this below regarding ‘Faucet Theory’.
Gender and racial factors
Boys, girls, Black, White, Latino, Asian – gender and race weren’t a moderating factor in student learning loss.
Where students have learning disabilities, the time away from education can have a greater impact, as they have a greater need for continuous learning.
Learning loss is exponential
The higher the grade of the students, the greater the learning loss. Like all skills, the harder they are, the more effort it takes to attain, and the more practice is needed to maintain it.
Not all subjects experience learning loss equally
Learning loss has the greatest impact on mathematics, followed by spelling and literacy.
But why mathematics? You might ask – one simple explanation might be that there’s an abundance of opportunity to spell, read and write over Summer vacations. Aside from the pleasure of reading, it’s almost an inevitability that kids will be using social media and engaging with online content.
However, the chances of students coming across a rogue algebra problem is very slim in comparison.
This is where two pieces of our puzzle click together – if random mathematics activities aren’t likely to visit students regardless, why do socioeconomic factors play a part?
It could be explained by Faucet Theory.
The theory goes a little something like this:
During the school year, the faucet is on for all students – access to libraries, teacher guidance, resources and so on.
Outside of the school year, students may be disadvantaged if they do not have access to summer school programs, quality mathematics learning programs, have parents that are unable to take time off work, or have limited access to resources. (AFT)
Which leads us to the last question…
How can we manage Summer learning loss?
We know that Summer learning loss can be expensive and time-consuming, and have a greater effect on students who really need a win.
But when they’re out of sight and out of school – how can you make an impact?
We think we’ve found a solution: check out our guide to Preparing Parents for Summer Learning Loss.
The Effects of Summer Vacation on Achievement Test Scores: A Narrative and Meta-Analytic Review – American Educational Research Association
Seasonal Dynamics of Academic Achievement Inequality by Socioeconomic Status and Race/Ethnicity: Updating and Extending Past Research With New National Data – American Educational Research Association
Slowing the Summer Slide – ASCD
Summer Math Loss – Harvard Graduate School of Education