Thursday, June 2, 2011

Summer Learning Loss Can Be Prevented

Dr. Michael A. Robinson

I just reviewed data on the percentage of fourth grade students passing their 2008-2009 state reading exams, according to NBC’s Education Nation website. Click here to see the Maryland data for yourself. Below are a few Maryland public school systems and their percentages of fourth grade students passing state reading:

Anne Arundel County (91%)
Baltimore City (78%)
Baltimore County (87%)
Calvert County (94%)
Howard County (93%)
Montgomery County (91%)
Prince George's County (77%)

As engaged parents, we have to address the low percentage of students performing well in the classroom and on state exams. This is especially important during the summer when academically centered activities give way to summer fun and frolic.

Former CEO for the National Summer Learning Association Ron Fairchild stated that 65% of the achievement gap can be attributed to summer learning loss. If this is true, we as parents cannot sit idly by and watch all the gains our children have made during the previous school year fall back. In a report released by the National Summer Learning Association, summer learning loss has been linked to low academic achievement and extremely high dropout rates.

The research brief cites the work of Dr. Karl Alexander and his colleagues which suggested that students from low economic backgrounds tend to experience a greater degree of academic drops in skills during the summer. Their research also discovered that students from economic disadvantaged backgrounds typically enter the school year at a lower level than typically middle class students, however, the researchers’ suggested that by the end of the year students from the low income families have progressed at or about an equal rate of those from a more affluent economic background. According the writers, their struggles really pick up during the summer when they experience the summer slide. The summer slide was not a phenomenon their more well off peers encountered.

Dr. Alexander when asked to explain why income levels impacted summer learning and more specifically why higher income students performed better upon return from summer breaks, he posited there were “some definite differences (Alexander, 2010). He further explained,

I don’t want to break it down into a checklist, but some differences seemed relevant. For example, better-off children were more likely to go to the library over the summertime and take books home. They were more likely to engage in a variety of enrichment experiences such as attending museums, concerts and field trips. They were more likely to take out-of-town vacations, be involved in organized sports activities, or take lessons, such as swimming or gymnastics lessons. Overall, they had a more expansive realm of experiences.

Many of the activities outlined by Dr. Alexander could be out of the reach of lower income families and to an extent a growing number of middle class families. Thus families have to create alternative learning opportunities to for their children. Scholars and school administrators agree there are ways this can be accomplished.

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