Education Feature
Summer Learning Loss
By Adam Wilkenfeld
CWK West Coast Bureau Chief

"If they can learn, and at the same time enjoy, then that’s what we’re after. Just the pleasure of learning."
-Silvia Lucero, a mother-

For the Lucero boys, learning is year-round. When the school year ends, their father uses next year’s text to teach them math lessons at home.

“And he’d give us like maybe three-page tests on those, with like maybe 75 questions,” says Orlando, 16.

And during the summer, their mother gives them assigned reading and asks them to give written or oral book reports.

“It can be a hassle sometimes, but during school, it pays off on tests and everything,” 14-year-old Vidal says.

These boys won’t fall behind this summer, but many of their classmates and other students around the country will.

According to a study from the University of Missouri, many kids forget some of what they’ve learned, and by the end of summer, they lose, “over two and one-half months of grade-level equivalency in mathematics,” says Fran Chamberlain, director of an after-school program called KidsLit.

“Teachers are spending easily up to six weeks trying to review what had happened in previous years,” says David Payne, a former principal.

Payne, now the CEO of an after-school program called the Extreme Learning Center, says reading skills also lag. He tells parents to actually go to school and talk to the their children’s teacher before the end of classes. Ask the teacher what skills could your children benefit from practicing this summer, and find out what books might they read now that could keep them sharp and help them prepare for next year.

“A parent who knows that their child might be interested in a certain topic but reading a different grade level than the rest of the class can go find a book and engage their student over the summer and make great progress,” Payne says.

He also says that the key is to make learning fun, especially during the summer. The Lucero boys, for example, write out math problems on the dining room table … with shaving cream!

Their father, Frank Lucero, came up with that idea.

“I’ll take a look at the books, I’ll read through the chapters, pick out the particular problems and actually spend some time in analyzing how am I going to make this fun for the boys? What are we going to do this time? How do I keep it different?” he says.

This summer, the boys will have time for basketball and skateboarding, but only when the homework is done. Come fall, Orlando and Vidal will be ready.

“Everyone’s asking me, like, how do you do this, how do you do that? Like on the bus. And they practically have to relearn it all over again,” Vidal says.

Additional Research

Consider the following research collected by Ron Fairchild, executive director of the Johns Hopkins University Center for Summer Learning:

  • All young people experience learning losses when they do not engage in educational activities during the summer. Research shows that students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning of summer vacation (Cooper, 1996).
  • On average, students lose approximately 2.6 months of grade-level equivalency in mathematical computation skills over the summer months. Studies reveal that the greatest areas of summer loss for all students, regardless of socioeconomic status, are in factual or procedural knowledge (Cooper, 1996).
  • Low-income children and youth experience greater summer learning losses than their higher income peers. On average, middle-income students experience slight gains in reading performance over the summer months. Low-income students experience an average summer learning loss in reading achievement of over two months (Cooper, 1996).
  • Summer learning loss contributes to the achievement gap in reading performance between lower and higher income children and youth. Research demonstrates that while student achievement for both middle and lower income students improves at similar rates during the school year, low-income students experience cumulative summer learning losses over the elementary school grades (Alexander & Entwisle, 1996).
  • Large numbers of students who qualify for federally subsidized meals do not have the same level of access to nutritious meals during the summer as they do during the school year. Only one in five (21.1 per 100) of the 15.3 million children who receive free or reduced priced school lunches on a typical day during the regular school year participate in federal nutrition programs during the summer (Food Research and Action Center, 2002).
  • Studies show that out-of-school time is a dangerous time for unsupervised children and teens. They are more likely to use alcohol, drugs and tobacco, engage in criminal and other high-risk behaviors, receive poor grades and drop out of school than those who have the opportunity to benefit from constructive activities supervised by responsible adults (Carnegie Council, 1994).
Related Information

According to a study from the University of Missouri, during the summer break many students forget some of what they have learned throughout the school year. In fact, many lose “over two and one-half months of grade level equivalency in mathematics,” says Fran Chamberlain of the Developmental Studies Center.

As a parent, it is important for you to help your child retain the knowledge he or she has learned each year. Whether homework is assigned during the school year or as a “summer bridge” between grades, you can help your child get it done. In fact, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) says parents can help their children academically, even if homework is not assigned. The AFT describes home as “a child’s first school.” The organization recommends spending a little time each day on reading, writing and math activities.

What Parents Need to Know

The American Medical Association has some specific suggestions on ways you can help your child with homework:

  • Help your child get organized. It can be hard to schedule homework time into your child's busy life, but that is exactly what you must do. Prioritizing homework tells your child that learning, reading and studying are important. If you need to, post a weekly calendar with slots for daily homework time.
  • Help your child find the right workspace. Where your child should do homework depends largely on his or her age. The workspace should be well lighted and supplied with pencils, paper, rulers and books so your child doesn't waste time hunting for tools. The kitchen or dining room table is the most popular workspace for young children.
  • Let your child do the work. Young children in particular are accustomed to being helped with many tasks, so they naturally look to parents for help with homework. Remember that a primary goal of homework is to build responsibility. Here, yours is a supporting role as a parent - encouraging your child to think, evaluate and respond.
  • Help your child understand instructions, but then step back and let him or her work independently. It is important that you do not actually do the work because this denies your child an essential sense of achievement. Praise should be focused on your child's effort rather than on "correct" or "incorrect."
  • Be a parent, not a teacher. The most important role you can play is as a parent. It is important not to become the teacher at home. You can scan the assignment first to become familiar with it. That way, if your child has trouble finding the answer, you can offer a clue and then let your child find the answer. This approach helps build your child's confidence that he or she can, indeed, do the work on his or her own. You should be ready with praise when the assignment is completed.
  • Make a final homework check before assignments are submitted. This not only gives you an indication of your child's ability, but it also keeps you up-to-date on what he or she is studying. If you do find errors, don't criticize. If your child is really struggling, send a note to the teacher pointing out the difficulties your child had with that assignment. By going over homework with your child, you can see whether there are any problems that need to be addressed.

The AFT also recommends that you reward your child for work well done or for trying hard, even when he or she makes mistakes. The rewards don’t have to cost money. A hug, or a smile and some words of praise can mean more than candy or a toy.


American Federation of Teachers
American Medical Association
Extreme Learning Center
Johns Hopkins University Center for Summer Learning