Summer Learning, Some Are Not: New Insights for an Old Question
*Names in bold indicate Presenter
“Long summer holidays are bad for children, especially the poor” (The Economist, 2018). This headline is emblematic of the rhetoric on summer learning. It has become widely understood that children, especially those from lower-income backgrounds, lose academic skills over the summer months (Alexander, Entwisle, & Olson, 2001; Benson & Borman, 2010; Cooper, Nye, Charlton, Lindsay, & Greathouse, 1996; Downey, von Hippel, & Broh, 2004; Heyns, 1978). In 2018 alone, there were 50,000 media stories on summer learning and 300 state bills introduced to support summer programming (NSLA, State of Summer Learning, 2017). There is increasing focus on and investment in the summer, despite the fact that new research suggests that the studies making up the bulk of the literature ought to be viewed more cautiously for reasons that include the differing quality and dated nature of the studies, measurement artifacts (see von Hippel & Workman, 2016), and the different ways of operationalizing inequality across studies (Quinn et al., 2016). Particular to the latter point, work by Quinn (2015) and Quinn et al. (2016) suggests that summer learning estimates are highly sensitive to modeling choices. For instance, using nationally representative data, Black-White summer gaps could either favor Black or White students depending solely on the statistical model used (Quinn, 2015).
This panel is a joining of forces of summer learning researchers who extend the knowledge base on the role of summer in achievement and inequality. Two studies utilize the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) data to examine summer learning loss in ways that contribute immensely to our growing understanding of the role of summer in academic achievement trajectories. This data is the largest dataset ever to be used to examine summer learning, capturing the school experiences of over two million students in the United States. Atteberry and McEachin explore summer learning from kindergarten to 8th grade, finding that roughly 19% of fluctuations in students’ achievement between first and fifth grade occurs over the summer. Using the same data, Kuhfeld, Condron, and Downey shed light on differences in summer learning rates based on race/ethnicity and poverty. They found that Black students show less summer loss compared to White students, controlling for district SES. They also found that Asian students gained more in math compared to White students during the school year and summer, leading to an average score advantage by later grades. Using the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten (ECLS-K:2011-12), Koury and colleagues explore how summer learning loss came to dominate the narrative regarding summer’s relation to achievement. They also identify who loses and gains over two summers as opposed to how much. Their finds suggest that, on average, summer learning loss is a reality for the minority of children in these very early years and that certain characteristics appear to be associated with slide.