Students, schools prepare to climb back up from the 'summer slide'

Learning loss can take its toll
Posted at 7:00 AM, Aug 03, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-03 07:00:08-04

CINCINNATI -- As summer winds down for students, educators are preparing for a new school year. For many teachers, that means integrating some recap lessons with new material to make up for summer slide.

It might sound like a fun ride at an amusement park, but summer slide describes learning loss – particularly in reading and math – between the end of one school year and the beginning of the next.

“I always noticed a big difference from the end of the year to the beginning of the year,” said Keith Armour, education and homework support manager at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

Armour taught second and third grade until about eight years ago. In more than 20 years of teaching, he found the first month of school was largely devoted to brushing up on what students learned in the grade prior. He also has seen the phenomenon while offering homework assistance at the library.

Although some research suggests that students from low-income households tend to be affected more, Armour said he’s seen the effects of summer slide in both poor and suburban communities.

“It’s across the board as long as the parents are busy doing other things,” Armour said.

Seeing kids struggle to remember information they already learned is one factor that, for him, adds to the appeal of a year-round school model.

“I loved the idea of year-round school,” he said.

While the model isn’t implemented in Ohio, it was tested in some Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky schools in 2001 and 2002.

Most year-round schedules keep approximately the same number of school days as those with the traditional summer break. Instead of taking one long break, students attend school on a calendar that includes about nine weeks at a time in session with three-week breaks in between.

Local district officials ultimately decided to revert to a traditional summer break, and a 2007 study by a research statistician at Ohio State University indicated that year-round school neither increased nor decreased learning. Still, there remain proponents, like Armour and former Ohio Sen. Eric Kearney, who presented the idea to the state Legislature in 2014.

Others have a different perspective.

“In my opinion … they need some down time to recharge their batteries,” said Holli Morrish, communications and public engagement director for Talawanda Schools.

The time off not only gives kids a break, it gives parents more time to connect with their children, she said.

“There has to be time built into the year for family time,” she said.

With three kids in school and extracurricular activities and two working parents in the household, summer break provides time to interact as a family that they don’t get during the school year, she said.

Both proponents and opponents of year-round school support keeping kids’ minds active and engaged during summer months, though.

“You don’t have to recreate a classroom setting at home or at the library, but you do have to keep them engaged,” Armour said.

The library offers a variety of summer learning opportunities, including Brain Camps, which combine down time with education by integrating fun activities into lessons on geography, history and science.

“Brain Camp is kind of a stealthy way to keep them engaged and keep them thinking,” Armour said.

Some school districts offer summer learning opportunities as well. In Forest Hills, students and parents have year-round access to online personalized math tools and an online family mathematics support center. Sycamore Community Schools earlier this summer offered summer STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) classes.

Even traditional summer pastimes for young people, like working and traveling, can give kids a chance to learn and engage with others when they’re not in school, Morrish said.

“I think all those experiences are really important to the development of young people,” she said.

Need ideas to help prevent the summer slide in your house? The National Summer Learning Association has you covered.