It’s Not Too Late

Summer’s almost over.  Many teachers have already returned to their schools and over the next few weeks students will follow.  The Department of Education has posted a timely reminder on the importance of keeping students reading year round:

…even though summer is almost over, it’s not too late to help your child become a better reader before the new school year begins. Summer is an important time for students to keep reading and improve their language skills. If your child hasn’t been reading regularly this summer, they may be in danger of the “summer slide”—a decline in their reading ability.

Numerous studies indicate that students who don’t read or read infrequently during their summer vacation see their reading abilities stagnate or decline. This effect becomes more pronounced as students get older and advance through the school system. The situation for economically disadvantaged students is especially grim: if students from low-income families don’t read over the summer, they are much more likely to fall behind their more privileged peers, widening the “achievement gap.”

Kudos to the Department for reminding parents (and educators) about the pernicious effects of summer loss and how important it is for students to stay engaged over the summer months.  If you haven’t used it yet, it’s not too late to jump on Lexile Find a Book to create custom book list based on both reading level and interest.

And here’s a video message from Arne Duncan offering a few more tips for parents on helping students avoid summer slide.

Florida Kicks Off ’2011 Summer Literacy Adventure’

With summer vacation just around the corner, and students composing their summer lists of places to go and things to do, Florida is hoping its new initiative will make reading an essential part of that list.  As Tallahassee.com reports, this week students saw the launch of the 2011 Summer Literacy Adventure program which is designed to encourage reading over the summer months, is backed by the Florida Department of Education, the Florida Department of State, and the first lady, Ann Scott. 

We’ve written extensively on the importance of combating the learning loss that occurs each summer, which is why we applauded Florida’s success with last year’s Summer Reading Adventure Program.  This year, with the first lady’s encouragement, students are being asked to make a pledge to read over the summer and commit to the number of books they will finish.  “The initiative also urges students to visit their local library, and to use the website Lexile.com to identify books that might be on interest to them.”

To use Find a Book, students simply enter their Lexile measure and select their interests from the categories provided.  Find a Book will then generate a reading list for students targeted to both their reading level and area of interest.  Click here to access the Lexile Find a Book site.

School’s Out Soon. Should It Be?

Here is Duke University’s Harris Cooper offering a bold plan for education reform – extending the school year.  There’s ample evidence to support the claim that increased instructional time has a positive impact on educational progress – particularly for low-income and struggling students.  As Cooper argues, the current administration has thankfully made extending instructional time a central component of their reform agenda, but he makes a compelling case for even more:

But it is not only the summer schedule that needs rethinking. The length and organization of the school day don’t serve our children well either. Look outside a school building as the day ends and you see a queue of buses and vans waiting to transport children to empty homes or to afterschool programs.

For the past 15 years, my graduate students and I have reviewed research on school time and calendar issues. We’ve looked at summer learning loss, summer school, year-round calendars, afterschool programs and homework.

For nearly all these reforms, the evidence suggests that more learning time would have positive effects for kids – especially for poor kids and those struggling in school. But each effect is generally small, on its own.

Most recently, we examined empirical studies on the impact of lengthening the school day and year. The collective finding (and the wisdom of school calendar researchers) is that a few extra minutes here and a few extra days there won’t be enough to have the desired effect.

Instead, the increases in time have to be substantial enough that educators can adopt new curricula – and new expectations about what students should know and when they should know it. Don’t add 15 minutes a day, add an hour. Don’t add five days to the calendar, add 20. And, simultaneously, change how that time is used.

We’ve written previously on the devastating impact of summer learning loss and have argued that steps should be taken to keep the educational spigot on during the summer months.  A study by Alexander, Entwistle, & Olson (2007) revealed that students across the socioeconomic spectrum make similar gains in reading and math during the school year, but that students from low-income families stagnate or slide during the intervening summer months.  As Cooper reminds us, students from more affluent families have access to a wide array of academic activities (summer academic camps, tutoring, enrichment programs, study abroad opportunities, etc…) and often don’t experience as much learning loss as their less affluent peers (although, it’s worth noting that students across the economic spectrum experience a degree of math learning loss during the summer).

Last year, Time brought national attention to the problem of summer slide:

And what starts as a hiccup in a 6-year-old’s education can be a crisis by the time that child reaches high school.  A major study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University concluded that while students made similar progress during the school year, regardless of economic status, the better-off kids held steady or continued to advance during the summer-while disadvantaged students fell back.  By the end of grammar school, low-income students had fallen nearly three grade levels behind.  By ninth grade, roughly two-thirds of the learning gap separating income groups could be blamed on summer learning loss.

We share Cooper’s concern and would argue that any serious effort at education reform must advocate, to some degree, extending instructional time for all students.  As is becoming clear,to remain competitive the structure of educational institutions (including the amount of time dedicated to instruction) must reflect the realities of an increasingly well-educated and global landscape - not remain tied to cultural norms and practices of the past.

In the meantime, our own efforts to combat summer learning loss can be found in the free utilities and tools we offer to educators and students.  Find a Book allows students to match themselves to targeted text based on their reading level and their interests.  Once selected, students can create individualized book lists that reflect their own interests and choices.  Find a Book is linked with public libraries across the U.S., making books of interest available to all students.  Math at Home allows educators to create entire resource lists specifically targeted to a student’s math level.  And because the resources are free and online, students can continue to practice and supplement their math lessons all summer long.  It’s our hope that these resources offer all students a way to remain connected and engaged with academic material year round.

MetaMetrics is an educational measurement organization. Our renowned psychometric team develops scientific measures of student achievement that link assessment with targeted instruction to improve learning.