Planning ahead for summer

Heather L Schwartz and colleagues from the RAND Corporation have released a final report on a six-year study of the National Summer Learning Project, an initiative from The Wallace Foundation that was implemented in 2011 in five urban school districts in the US. The summer programmes in these districts were district-led, voluntary summer learning programmes that featured both academic teaching and enrichment opportunities to improve outcomes for low-income pupils.

The overall study combined a randomised controlled trial with correlational analysis and implementation research to examine whether voluntary, district-run summer learning programmes can improve academic, behavioural, and social and emotional outcomes for low-income, urban children in both the short and long terms. The study followed approximately 5,600 pupils from third to seventh grade (Years 4 to 8). Data included surveys, observations and test data.

Findings showed that pupils who received a minimum of 25 hours of mathematics teaching in a summer performed better on the subsequent state maths test, and those receiving 34 hours of English lessons performed better on the subsequent state English language assessment.

These outcomes need to be viewed with caution, however, as pupils who actually attended summer school, as opposed to those who signed up but did not attend, are likely to be more highly motivated and better achieving, introducing possible bias.

Based on their research, the authors offer several recommendations for planning for summer learning, including:

  • Commit in the autumn to a summer programme, and start active planning by January with a programme director who has at least half of his or her time devoted to the job.
  • Prior to the start of the summer programme, professional development for summer teachers should include specific guidance on use of the summer curricula, minimising loss of teaching time, and on checking for pupil understanding.
  • Operate the programme for five to six weeks with three to four hours of academic lessons per day.

A more detailed and comprehensive list of recommendations can be found in the report.

Source: Getting to work on summer learning. Recommended practices for success, 2nd edition (2018), RAND Corporation

Effects of a summer maths programme on algebra readiness

WestEd has released a study examining the effects of the Elevate Math summer mathematics programme on seventh-grade (Year 8) pupils’ algebra readiness, general maths achievement, and perceptions of maths.

Elevate Math is a four-week programme that pupils attend for 19 days in the summer for four hours a day. It addresses properties and operations, linear equations, ratios and multiple representations, and transformational geometry, with one hour spent on Khan Academy (a free online learning system). Elevate Math also incorporates a college visit to inspire pupils and 40 hours of professional development for teachers.

A total of 477 seventh-grade pupils at eight schools in California’s Silicon Valley who volunteered to take the course were randomly assigned to receive Elevate Math either at the beginning of the summer (treatment group) or the end of the summer (control group). The treatment group scored significantly higher than controls in tests of algebra readiness and general maths, however most pupils’ scores suggested they were still not ready for algebra. Pupil surveys showed that Elevate Math did not change attitudes towards maths or views of their maths competence.

Researchers stated that most pupils would need more support than solely Elevate Math in order to succeed in algebra. They also discuss how results indicated that Elevate Math reduced summer learning loss.

Source: The Effects of the Elevate Math Summer Program on Math Achievement and Algebra Readiness (2015), Institute of Education Sciences/WestEd.

Getting the most out of summer learning programmes

This research brief from Child Trends pulls together existing research on summer learning programmes and offers five ways to make them successful. According to the brief:

  • Invest in educators. Programmes that hire teachers with several years of teaching experience are more likely to improve academic outcomes than those that hire university students or do not hire instructors at all.
  • Connect with others in the field. Strategic partnerships between school and community organisations can lead to more diversity in funding sources, sharing of facilities and other resources, less duplication of services, access to a larger and more diverse pool of teachers and pupils for recruitment, and access to data about pupils’ year-round academic needs and improvement.
  • Involve families. Research shows that children with parents who are involved in their academic lives are likely to outperform children without such parental involvement.
  • Make it fun. Most programmes include experiential education – such as project-based or community service learning, thematic curricula, or adventure education – which has been shown to engage children and help them improve their grades, understand new material as part of a conceptual framework, and develop leadership skills.
  • Plan, measure, and adjust. Find out what has been shown to work in other programmes, and replicate it.

Summer Schools help with transition

A new report published by the Department for Education assesses the first year of their Summer Schools programme for disadvantaged pupils. The programme aims to help children eligible for free school meals (FSM) and looked-after children make the transition from primary to secondary school. In 2012, 1,776 Summer Schools were held across England.

A total of 9,682 pupils from treatment schools (that ran summer schools for disadvantaged pupils) and 11,383 pupils from comparison schools completed a survey when they started secondary school, and the authors also used data from the National Pupil Database (NPD). The results were broadly supportive of the Summer School programme and are consistent with a small positive effect on transition to secondary school, especially for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds (especially those eligible for FSM) had significantly lower levels of confidence, socialisation, and school readiness than their peers. Attending a Summer School was related to more positive attitudes (for confidence, socialisation, and school readiness); however, these should be viewed as “associations” rather than causal links.

Source: The Impact of the Summer Schools Programme on Pupils: Research Report (2013), Department for Education.

New study evaluates a summer camp for children with military parents

This RAND study assesses “Operation Purple”, a free one-week summer camp programme in the US for children with a parent who is on military deployment. The study used a quasi-experimental approach to determine whether there were differences between attendees and non-attendees in four Operation Purple theme areas: comfort and skill in communicating about feelings, understanding and appreciation of military life, sense of service/stewardship, and outdoor education. Data included children and parent survey data (from both camp attendees and a control group of non-attendees), camp after-action reports, and visitor observation logs. Key findings of the study were as follows:

  • The most significant difference between children who attended an Operation Purple camp and those who did not was in parent reports that children had a greater ability to communicate feelings of anxiety and stress surrounding parental deployment and a greater connection to the military and their peers. Parents also reported that camp participants had a greater interest in camping in the follow-up surveys.
  • The study found no significant differences between children who attended camp and those who did not in the area of sense of service/stewardship

Source: Assessing Operation Purple: A program evaluation of a summer camp for military youth (2012), RAND

Summer school literacy programme stops pupils slipping back

Pupils who went to summer school had improved their literacy performance at the end of the summer. This randomised trial, from Early Childhood Research Quarterly, examined the effects of a summer literacy programme on struggling readers in the US where summer holidays are longer.

Overall, pupils who didn’t attend summer school showed mean declines in the reading of nonsense words (a standard test of fluency) of approximately five words per minute over the summer. Children who attended summer school at the end of Kindergarten (Year 1) had a fluency gain of approximately 12 words-per-minute. Pupils at the end of Grade 1 (Year 2) had a fluency gain of 7.5 words per minute.

The findings are generally consistent with previous studies of summer school effects and the summer learning outcomes of children, and suggest that summer school can be a useful strategy to support learning over the summer months.

Source: Summer school effects in a randomized field trial (2012), Early Childhood Research Quarterly 28(1)