Science of Learning


How to Minimize Summer Slide

Is summer slide a given? Or are there ways to prevent students from losing important progress in academic skills – such as reading – during the summer months when there are fewer resources and less guidance to support them?

Summer slide can have a significant impact on learning for low-income students who may have more difficulty bouncing back during the school year. Research shows that summer slide may even be a contributing factor to the achievement gap, widening the disparity in academic achievement among children from different socioeconomic levels well into middle school and high school.

Some reports state that students can lose two to three months of academic progress if they don’t stay engaged in their learning over summer vacation. The good news is that studies suggest summer slide can be minimized or even reversed through programs that engage students, parents, and teachers while school is out.

There is consistent evidence that low-income children who have the greatest need for summer interventions may actually benefit from them the most. The following are research-based best practices for designing programs to combat summer slide:

  • Align summer reading with school curriculum. Match summer books with classroom materials from the previous school year to reinforce prior knowledge. Looking ahead, provide reading lists that give students a head start for upcoming curriculum during the school year.
  • Maximize participation. Students must participate to reap the benefits of a summer reading program. To attract and retain readers, summer programs should offer incentives early to attract students and to reward their effort.
  • Offer a wide assortment of books. A variety of high-quality titles will keep students coming back for more. Soliciting student input on which books they want to read will help keep stories interesting and fresh.

Reading books during the summer is a strong predictor of academic gain for students. For policy makers trying to close the achievement gap, offering at-risk students additional summer instruction to help them master required skills can pay off during the school year by reducing the need for remedial instruction.

Partnerships between schools and public libraries to take advantage of specific expertise and support for staff development also have the potential to make the most of resources that will benefit children and their families.

Take a look at WGBH’s “Putting the breaks on summer slide” for good examples of models for summer reading programs.

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Christine Casatelli

    As outreach coordinator for NOVA, Christine Casatelli works closely with educators and partner organizations on School of the Future, a NOVA film that explores the science of learning and its application in today’s classrooms. A veteran journalist, Christine teaches beat reporting and multimedia journalism at Emerson College in Boston. She is a doctoral student in education at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and a five-term member of the city school board in Melrose, Massachusetts.