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Summer Learning Loss is a Real Thing

After working hard for the duration of the school year, students often want to take summer off.

But according to one hundred years of research, doing so jeopardizes the gains they’ve made in the classroom over the preceding nine months. We call this phenomenon “summer learning loss.” and it happens to everyone: high and low income students, public and private school students, high and low achieving students. Summer learning loss affects reading comprehension, math skills, and a host of other learned competencies, and as a result it affects students standardized test scores. This should come as no surprise. For example, take a student who preps for the ACT weekly during the school year and takes the exam in June. If she were to take the summer off of prep, she would forget a host of the tricks and strategies she learned during the school year, and her prep for the September test would be a stressful game of catch-up.

We have seen this over and over again - after a promising June test, the first test of the fall comes in lower than we hoped for. On some level, we know this intrinsically - if you don’t use it, you lose it. But the numbers back it up, and they are convincing: on average, students lose 2.6 months of math skills over the summer. They lose two full months of reading skills. Worst of all, future learning is impacted because a full six weeks of the fall are spent re-learning what has been forgotten. This compounding effect is why we think it is so important to spend the summer actively engaged with academic material, from continuing SAT/ACT prep to reading challenging novels to practicing foreign language skills in conversation.

Fortunately, addressing summer learning loss doesn’t have to occupy too much of a student’s time. Studies show that 2-3 hours per week of concentrated academic focus can stave it off. Anyone can make 2-3 hours a week happen, right? That’s as simple as doing an hour of tutoring, an hour of homework, and an hour of leisure reading. But, of course, students shouldn’t stop there. Since there’s no schoolwork to worry about, summer is the best possible time to get serious with your test prep. Make logs of everything you need work on. Work with your mentor to systematically address those weaknesses while you can focus fully on them. Read vociferously, training your eye to read faster and more accurately. Sign up for an online math course, moving at your own pace and getting ahead of your classmates. If you don’t know where to start, we can help. No matter where you are – 90th or 60th percentile, 9th or 11th grade, pre-algebra or calculus – summer learning loss is serious, but it is also seriously preventable. Sign up for one of our Launch camps, peruse the summer course offerings on Laurel Springs, or put together an aggressive reading list, and watch yourself make gains instead. Ask your mentor about ESM’s summer booster and bridge programs, writing skills workshops, and summer test prep opportunities.