An Optimal Intervention to Mitigate Summer Learning Loss

students in a classroom mitigating summer learning loss by attending summer school and using online tutoring

An enduring challenge for K-12 administrators and teachers alike already looms even as the school year wraps up. 

Educators are likely looking ahead to the start of the coming school year and pondering how to best help students recoup learning lost over the summer. 

Yet, no matter how strongly students finish a school year, most will lose ground over the coming weeks.

The “Summer Slide” seems inevitable, at least to some extent. 

Continuing research supports the University of Missouri’s findings in 1996 and those from Cooper et al. and Alexander, Entwisle & Olson of Johns Hopkins just over 10 years later – students are likely “to experience ‘summer learning loss,’” also referred to as ‘summer slide’ or ‘summer setback’ (Megan Kuhfeld, 2019). 

Who experiences summer learning loss?

Much of this research highlighted the losses experienced mainly by students in lower socioeconomic situations. 

However, a more recent examination of data (Kuhfeld, 2019) makes an interesting assertion, one that could, perhaps should, impact the interventions educators put in place: It is not only students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who experience learning loss; it’s all students. 

Kuhfeld explains, “[M]y results indicate that summer vacation does not have a disproportionately negative effect on the academic trajectories of minority students or students in high-poverty schools. Of the students I studied, between 62 and 78% (across the grade levels) lost academic ground during the summer. Attending a high-poverty school had very little effect.”

While we know low-income students face other challenges that can negatively impact learning and that students in lower income brackets are less likely to have opportunities for summer educational experiences, efforts to slow or reverse the slide should not be focused only on those students. 

Practical tips for schools to prevent summer learning loss

A study published in the American Educational Research Journal “examined the magnitude and variability in summer learning loss across grades 1–8.” 

This study found that the average student lost 17–34% of the prior year’s learning gains during summer break, as well as that students who lose ground in one summer are more likely to also lose ground in subsequent summers.

One proven intervention is a summer reading program. 

Whether it is offered through the school, a public library, or some other organization, a literacy program that not only encourages reading but also taps into each individual student’s needs and interests can help to foster a lifelong love of reading. 

We know that students who read will be more successful in general. 

However, while summer reading programs have great outcomes, they cannot address every deficiency. 

A student who needs help in math needs access to more support than a reading program can offer. 

Math camps, STEM camps, and summer courses are great alternatives but are not available to every student.

An article published in American Educator (2018) reviewed programs used in summer learning. 

Some key findings concerning effectiveness include a small class size, interventions aligned with needs and interests, qualified teachers, regular attendance, and sufficient length of the session. 

Really, the success of such programs is not surprising. 

The problem is that many students will not have access to the programs that would be the most successful. 

An optimal intervention to mitigate summer learning loss and reduce persistent achievement gaps

While a summer reading program at a local library is a great way to encourage students to read and to introduce them to new materials while keeping them socially engaged, it cannot take the place of intensive subject-specific intervention. 

And having 1:1 intervention in that subject area can be a game-changer for the student.

You know the programs and activities that can help students over the summer, but the reality is that you have no power to make those things happen. 

What if you could change the reality? What if you could help students slide up instead of down? And what if you could provide support for any subject, not just reading or math? 

One of the most optimal interventions for both the summer slide and lagging during the school year is tutoring. 

As reported in Education Week, 75% of teachers at least somewhat agree that tutoring is effective. While it is an intervention that is widely used and sees success, districts are most likely to have to rely on their teachers. 

Not only is this “the most expensive option,” but it is also asking teachers who are already overworked to take on yet another responsibility. 

According to Education Week, though, the cost is not an obstacle. What is? 

“Students’ and families’ willingness to participate, and difficulty getting enough tutors. Transportation ranked high, too, probably because many districts hold their sessions outside normal school hours.” 

According to American Educator, “Summer interventions have the potential to not only mitigate summer learning loss but also reduce persistent achievement gaps.” 

What if you could offer a tutoring option that is less expensive yet has highly qualified professional tutors and eliminates the obstacles for families of scheduling and transportation? 

Further reading:

How Skooli can help your district

Skooli can provide support for the students in your school or district that is not only an effective way to reduce learning loss over the summer but is also one that can be leveraged throughout the school year. 

Learn more about how Skooli and our tutors— who are experienced educators who possess teaching licenses or advanced degrees in the subject they are tutoring in, meaning students receive help from true subject-matter experts—can help your school create a new reality for the Summer Slide.

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