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May 30, 2022

What Is Summer Learning Loss, and What Can Schools Do About It?

Summer break is just around the corner, and students in kindergarten through high school are looking forward to the fun-filled months ahead. Unfortunately, educators may have more pressing concerns—including the worry of summer learning loss. What is the summer learning loss phenomenon? Who does it affect? Most importantly, what can K-12 schools do about it?

What is summer learning loss?

Summer learning loss, also known as the "summer slide," is the loss of knowledge or academic skills over the course of summer break. It’s most common in the United States and Canada, where K-12 students enjoy lengthier summer breaks than they do in other countries.

Summer learning loss is a huge barrier to student success because the extended duration of summer break makes it more pronounced and problematic than learning loss that may occur throughout the school year.

Which students have problems with summer learning loss?

Summer learning loss impacts students of all ages, grade levels, and backgrounds. However, it may particularly affect children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The average student can lose between 17% and 34% of the prior year's learning during summer break.

Several challenges can increase the risk of learning loss over the summer months:

  • Parental availability: Parents who are able to spend more time with their students may be able to increase overall learning, while parents who are unable to commit that time and energy may have students who struggle more with learning loss in the summer.
  • Family income: Students from high-income families may have more overall access to books, materials, and educational activities through the summer months than students from low-income families.  
  • Family expectations: While some families expect their students to continue learning throughout the summer months or will include educational activities and expectations like reading as part of normal summer activities, others may not press their students to excel in those ways.
  • Grade level: Students at higher grade levels may suffer more learning loss than those in younger grades.

Students who have suffered learning loss over the summer will lose approximately a month of classroom learning.

When they return to the classroom the next school year, that learning loss can cause a number of problems. Students may struggle to keep up with the material covered.

Over time, they may actually fall further behind, leaving them unable to make the gains they need to make in the new school year.

Students who suffer from immense summer learning loss may also have lower self-esteem or struggle with more negative feelings about school due to their inability to catch up.

What can schools do to address summer learning loss?

Some summer learning loss is inevitable. However, there are several interventions schools can use to help decrease the impact of learning loss on their students.

School-based summer programs

Consider bringing students into the classroom for learning opportunities during summer vacation.

These programs can be long-term, including a summer-long program that may help double as childcare for struggling parents and families, or short-term like week-long or two-week courses that allow students to explore their academic strengths or areas of interest.

You might offer summer programs on:

  • Cooking
  • Art
  • Literature, including books that students would not typically read in the classroom
  • Comic books
  • Journalism
  • Creative writing
  • Coding
  • Chemistry
  • STEM

Consider what programs students in your school are most likely interested in—and what programs your existing teachers might love to teach. Look for creative content areas that might help engage students who are more reluctant to engage fully during the school year.

Home-based summer reading programs

Some families will prefer that students spend their summers at home. They may be active, headed out for vacations, or have other programs taking up their time.

Still others want their kids to have a genuine break from the rigors of academia and encouragement to enjoy less-structured time. Home-based summer reading programs are a great way to help keep interest up.

You might try:

  • Sending books home with students over the summer
  • Encouraging students to keep a journal of the books they read and awarding prizes for students who reach certain milestones
  • Putting together lesson plans that tie together fun concepts from popular books and encouraging the kids to get reading. For example, you might share crafts related to your student's favorite books.
  • Hosting events related to specific books at the school over the summer.

You may also want to make sure your students have plenty of access to reading materials over the summer. Partner with local libraries or connect students to online reading resources that can help kids find something that interests them.

Online tutoring

Online tutoring provided through your school can help support students' continued learning throughout summer break.

In many cases, your students might want to expand their knowledge and learning in subjects outside of the curriculum—and summer is the perfect time to do it.

TutorMe offers one-on-one academic support in hundreds of subjects to help students catch up or get ahead during the summer months. One-on-one tutoring is a great way to ensure that students receive individualized attention geared toward their specific needs.

Not only can TutorMe's on-demand tutoring support prevent summer learning loss, but it can actually help students progress in the areas that have given them trouble during the school year.  

Is summer learning loss a problem for your school?

Summer learning loss is a problem everywhere. Many teachers find that it's one of the first things they have to address when students return to the classroom. Learning loss can make it difficult for students to advance and grow as much as anticipated.

Fortunately, there are several things you can do to help minimize summer learning loss and help your students excel.

Partnering with Pear Deck Tutor (formerly, TutorMe) is an excellent first step that allows your students access to expert tutors who can help support them through the summer months. With Pear Assessment, students can get the exact help they need on demand no matter where they are in their academic journeys.

Join our network of partner schools today and help prevent your students and educators from grappling with learning loss this summer!


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Jimmy Brown

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