What happens to students over the summer?

Teacher with two little boysGerald Bracey reports that researchers at Johns Hopkins University recently gave a seasonal perspective on achievement and inequality. A 2001 study in Baltimore, Maryland schools tested primary-school children in the fall and again in the spring to determine what happened to their achievement over the summer.

The study identified students as either high, middle-, or low-income on the basis of interviews with their parents. Researchers found a very different pattern when comparing fall-to-spring versus spring-to-fall changes in achievement between these groups.

High-income students make early gains

In fall-to-spring comparisons measuring what happened during the school year, all three groups of students gained about the same amount. Gains in the first two years of school were significantly larger than in the following three. However, in the spring-to-fall comparisons, low-income and middle-income students lost ground in both reading and math over the summers following both first and second grade, while high-income students gained both times.

After third grade, almost all the summer loss was concentrated among low-income students. Thus the achievement gap widened during the time students were not in school.

These researchers concluded that “schools do matter, and they matter most when support for academic learning outside school is weak…. Disadvantaged children, on the whole, are capable learners. They keep up during the school year, but before they start first grade and in the summer between grades, the out-of-school resources available to them are not sufficient to support their achievement.”

They conclude that “initial differences were magnified across the primary grades because of summer setback despite the equalizing effect of their school experiences.”

“What Students Do in the Summer,” Phi Delta Kappan, Volume 83, Number 7, March 2002, pp. 497-8

Published in ERN April 2002 Volume 15 Number 4

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