Granite State Students Suffer From "Summer Learning Loss"

Aug 12, 2012

In just a few short weeks, summer vacation will come to a close, and when it does teachers will start the school year off with a familiar routine: review.

It may sound like no big deal, but over the summer students forget so much of their schooling over vacation that it’s come to be called “summer learning loss.” In the first of a three part series about the summer slide, NHPR’s Sam Evans-Brown tells us why summer activities have a lot to do with how students fare during the rest of the year.

Everyone knows that kids forget things over the summer; but hey, kids need that time to be kids. Splash in a lake, ride a bike, goof-off. Kids at the summer program project EXTRA in Laconia play dodge ball and go swimming, but camp coordinator Michaela Champlin says they’re learning too.

Michaela Champlin: We’ve done a little bit with Math using scales and distance and stuff, that’ll come toward the end of summer, but trying to get in the writing piece of it, all of it.

Project EXTRA is a summer program for Kindergarten through 3rd graders that’s funded by the federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers program. And with a price tag of $90 a week, that includes breakfast and lunch, it’s more affordable for low-income families than most day-care options. Even though Project EXTRA is supposed to help kids keeping learning over the summer, they don’t necessarily realize that’s what they’re doing.

Evans-Brown: Is this like school?

Kids: Yeah! No, not at all! Kinda

Evans-Brown: How is it kind of like school?

 Kids: ‘Cause you learn. And you do morning meeting, you have to sit cross-cross sometimes. But it’s a little bit more fun than school

Evans-Brown: Do you wish you could do this all year long?

Kids: Yeah!

But, according to a survey from the Wallace foundation only 29 percent of New Hampshire kids are taking part in any sort of summer program, and research suggests that is a serious problem.

Now some of us might remember stumbling back into class – groggy after a summer of swimming, and sleeping-in – only half-remembering what happened the previous May. And we turned out all-right didn’t we?

Bob Champlin: It really can be devastating.

Bob Champlin is Laconia’s superintendent, who also happens to be the father of the director of project EXTRA.

Bob Champlin: The gap is not only that they may not be ready for the third grade material coming out of second grade, it might be that they may need a good amount of time with the second grade material. Well that creates this cycle where they’re behind before you start type thing.

So teachers lose valuable time doing review. However, that’s not the whole story: this so-called summer learning loss hits kids from poor families harder than better-off kids. No Child Left Behind collected data showing that low-income students have lower test scores than middle and upper-income kids. But a study from Johns Hopkins University shows that poor kids actually learn at about the same rate during the school year.

So it may be during the summer that poor kids are really falling behind.

Gary Huggins – CEO of the National Summer Learning Association – says studies show summer learning loss can explain two thirds of the achievement gap between poor kids and their better off peers.

Huggins: It comes down to access to books. Parents engaging their kids in reading, if parents are able to be there with their kids and spend time in libraries and take them to libraries and those kinds of things, then they have a leg up.

Huggins says, when it comes to math all kids are back sliding in somewhat, but the difference between low and middle income students is much more pronounced in reading.

Advocates say, when done right, affordable summer programs can be a very effective way to close the learning gap between the well-off and the less-well-off. At Project EXTRA kids like Evan Kreitzer, who otherwise spends his vacation haying on the family farm, can get some help on their summer reading assignments.

Kreitzer: you have to read a book it’s like 300 pages, and then you had to do some character notes, and then do paragraph notes, and then a rough draft and then the essay. Took a lot of work.

That’s work that Kreitzer will continue to do in his reading and writing classes when he starts 7th grade this fall. And thanks to his work over the summer, he hopes to have a leg up when he gets started.