New report: Participation in summer learning programs yields positive outcomes

by Erin Murphy

A new report shows that high levels of participation in summer learning programs can provide positive benefits for low-income students’ math and language arts performances and social-emotional skills. Last week, The Wallace Foundation released Learning from Summer: Effects of Voluntary Summer Learning Programs on Low-Income Urban Youth, the third and final report analyzing the outcomes of their National Summer Learning Project.

This report, conducted by the RAND Corporation, is part of a six-year study offering the first-ever assessment of the effectiveness of voluntary, no-cost summer learning programs on the academic achievement, social-emotional competencies, and behavior of low-income, urban, elementary students. In fall 2013, third grade students enrolled in one of five urban school districts—Boston, Dallas, Jacksonville (FL), Pittsburgh, or Rochester (NY)—were selected to participate in the study. Half of the students were invited to participate in summer programming while half were not, and data on academic performance, social emotional skills, behavior and attendance was collected on both groups through the end of seventh grade.

Key findings on summer learning programs:

  • Students who were “high-attenders”—those attending a summer program at least 20 days—saw near and long-term positive effects in math assessments throughout the study.
  • High-attenders saw near and long-term positive effects in language arts assessments after the second summer of programming.
  • High-attenders saw positive benefits for their social and emotional skills after the second summer of programming.
  • When programs focused on math or language arts, students saw lasting positive gains in these subjects. Students who received a minimum of 25 hours of math instruction or 34 hours in language arts instruction during the summer outperformed students who did not receive the same level of instruction in the relevant subject in fall assessments. The report also found that the positive effects lasted into the spring after the second summer.
  • Providing students an invitation to attend did not lead to substantial long-term benefits, because of high rates of non-participation and low-attendance rates.

Based on the findings, these best practices for districts were developed:

  • Offer programs to multiple grade levels to prevent older siblings from needing to care for younger children.
  • Create engaging academic and enrichment opportunities that excite students.
  • Employ adults who have time to focus on student behavior to minimize bullying and fighting.
  • Make personal connections with families of students who may be more prone to low attendance to encourage participation and identify potential barriers to attendance.
  • Establish mandatory programs for the lowest-performing students, who are less likely to attend the voluntary programs at high rates.

Read the full report for more information. You can also check out Getting to Work on Summer Learning: Recommended Practices for Success and Ready for Fall? Near-Term Effects of Voluntary Summer Learning Programs on Low-Income Students’ Learning Opportunities, the first and second National Summer Learning Project reports.

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