Summer brings to mind carefree happy times with fun in the sun and less stringent schedules. But we don’t often think about the impact that summer time has on student learning. Numerous studies have been conducted and they all report the same. Students’ language and math skills deteriorate over the summer months. Over 100 years of research shows that students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning of the summer (White, 1906; Heyns, 1978; Entwisle & Alexander 1992; Cooper, 1996; Downey et al, 2004).
In terms of student learning, summer is often referred to as the “summer slump”. Most students lose about two months of grade level equivalency in mathematical computation skills over the summer months (Cooper, 1996). And experts say math, more than reading, is a subject in which kids are more likely to experience summer learning loss, possibly because parents and educators are more likely to focus on summer reading lists. In an effort to address this issue, many summer schools that are only remedial in nature are offered. They are often viewed as punishment for poor performance. But summer school should be viewed as an investment in improved student achievement. While it can be viewed as a way to provide valuable intervention, it should also be viewed as a way to provide both extended enrichment and learning opportunities as well as a time to prevent summer learning loss.
Think about the student who is not among the lowest achieving and does not qualify for a remedial summer intervention program, but is struggling with math misunderstandings and misconceptions.
About two-thirds of the ninth-grade achievement gap between lower and higher income youth can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities during the elementary school years. As a result, low-income youth are less likely to graduate from high school or enter college (Alexander et al. 2007) Targeted summer tutoring would allow for the review of the past year’s mathematics concepts and skills to assure the student receives tutorial support that is focused on these. It might also include time for the student to become familiar with math content and concepts for the coming year so they enter the next grade ready for mathematics. Rather than struggling to keep their head above water the next year, they come out ready to run with the mathematics they’ll be doing and learning. Finally, consider the student who enjoys math and/or the student parents who realize the importance of math.
These students should have the opportunities for summer learning as well. There are a number of free math online games and resources available for students to access during the summer months. However, these may not provide the targeted tutoring that students need in order to address their misconceptions and misunderstandings. Offering online math tutoring programs through your summer school program, aligned to relevant content and best practices that target individual student needs could serve as a viable option for clearing up misconceptions and improving student learning and understanding of mathematics.