The Importance of Summer Learning: Closing the Gap

The Importance of Summer Learning: Closing the Gap
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Summer Learning

As the school year winds down, teachers begin sending home information on summer reading lists and programs. As a teacher myself, I make sure reading is stressed as the summer begins. We are determined to make it a habit, but once July rolls around we get a little lax with our daily reading sessions. We all know preventing summer learning loss is important to classroom success in the fall, but it does take some diligence and planning.

The Data

So, why is it so important to keep up with reading lists? The facts are pretty straight forward:

  • Students experience significant learning loss when they do not participate in educational activities during the summer months. Research shows that students on average score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer than they do on the same tests at the end of the school year (Cooper, 1996).
  • On average, students lose about 2.6 months of grade level equivalency in mathematical computation skills during the summer. (Cooper, 1996).
  • Low-income students experience greater summer learning losses than their higher income peers. On average, middle-income students experience slight gains in reading performance during summer vacation. Low-income students experience about a two month loss in reading achievement (Cooper, 1996).
  • The achievement gap in reading scores between higher and lover income students grows during the summer. Research shows that student achievement for both middle- and lower-income students improves at a similar rate during the school year, low-income students experience a higher level of summer learning loss during their elementary school years (Alexander & Entwisle, 1996).

Why Does the Income Achievement Gap Exist?

The facts above concerning the difference in learning loss between the different income classes is concrete. But, why do they exist? It is plain and simple; it takes money to sign your children up for organized summer programs, money these families may not have. The quality of programs may also vary between districts and neighborhoods. If both parents work and children are in day-care or are home alone, there may be fewer opportunities for daily reading and learning. Unsupervised children and teens are also at greater risk of falling into trouble during the summer. Long-term this can lead to a greater risk of becoming involved with drugs and alcohol which leads to poor grades and dropping out of school. Keeping kids involved in summer programs can not only help their math and reading scores, it can in the long-run help with drop out rates in high school.

What Can be Done?

Summer learning needs to be a community wide commitment. Schools and communities need to ensure that there are quality programs available to all students, no matter their socioeconomic status. Public agencies, community organizations, and local schools and universities need to join forces and take on the fight to combat summer learning loss. With a collaborative effort, the quality and accessibility of programs will increase and students will see the direct benefit when school is back in session in the fall.


Cooper, H., Nye, B., Charlton, K., Lindsay, J., and Greathouse, S. The Effects of Summer Vacation on Achievement Test Scores: A Narrative and Meta-analytic Review.Review of Educational Research, 66: 227-268, 1996.

Alexander, K.L., and D.R. Entwisle. “Schools and Children at Risk.” In Family-School Links: How Do They Affect Educational Outcomes?, edited by A. Booth and J.F. Dunn, 67-89. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum, 1996.