May 22, 2013

Preventing the “Summer Slide” – Part 1 of 2

When you hear the expression “summer slide,” you might have a happy mental image of a child careening down a slope into a pool of crystal blue water, shrieking with joy as she splashes into the pool and joins her friends.

Unfortunately, the educational connotation of this term is anything but full of glee and good times. “Summer slide” or, alternately “summer learning loss” is a well-documented occurrence whereby students lose both skills and knowledge over the course of the lengthy summer vacation. This loss varies according to grade level, subject matter and socioeconomic status, but there is no question that it occurs to some degree in each and every student during the summer.

On average, according to studies by Cooper, et al, students lose one month of their previous knowledge and skill growth during the three months of summer vacation. For students who are already struggling academically, this loss can increase as much as threefold. And the loss is cumulative: according to 2007 a study at Johns Hopkins University, the achievement gap between ninth graders who were struggling with reading and their better-achieving peers could be largely attributed to summer learning loss that took place during their elementary school years.

The effects of summer slide aren’t just seen in reading. The Hopkins study also noted that students lose, on average, 2.6 months of grade level mathematics equivalency (meaning how they match up against expectations for math performance at that grade level) in computational skills alone. So in essence, by the time your child returns to school in September, he is actually performing in Math at the same level he was shortly after February break. To look at it in another way, until a bit before Thanksgiving, most children are largely catching up to where they were at the end of the last school year rather than acquiring new skills and new knowledge.

Summer slide

The good news is that summer learning loss is not a fait accompli. There is a great deal that you as parents (and we as tutors!) can do to counteract the summer slide. Even First Lady Michelle Obama has noted how important it is to address, rather than merely accept, the effects of summer learning loss. With her Let’s Read. Let’s Move program, started in 2010, Mrs. Obama encourages students to both get active during the summer months and spend more time reading.

While her solution to the academic aspects of her initiative was just to have students read five books over the summer, we at Engaging Minds can offer a whole plethora of suggestions to counteract learning loss in both reading and math. In the second part of this blog next week, we will address strategies and approaches to encourage an actual increase in learning and skills over the summer and ways you can help your child have a summer that is both fun and productive.

For more information about summer programs at Engaging Minds, please click here.