How summer math programs can improve academic success for low-income students

A recent study highlights the positive benefits of summer learning for low-income students, including higher scores on standardized math tests and improved attendance.

A new study published Wednesday in the Review of Education Research points to the influence summer math programs have on countering the effects of learning loss, a product of the pandemic that has more significantly affected low-income pre-K-12 students, the research suggests.

The researchers performed a meta-analysis of studies published in the last 20 years of summer math programs for children in pre-K-12. The programs examined included those provided in-person at schools, colleges, online and through other organizations.

The results come at a time when educators and district leaders are making efforts to help students bounce back academically from COVID-19.

“Our research provides updated evidence that summer programs are an opportunity to improve children’s math performance, including in high-poverty settings where many students face significant opportunity gaps,” said Kathleen Lynch, assistant professor of learning sciences at the University of Connecticut and co-author of the study, in a press release.

Key findings

  • Students who took part in summer programs that focused on math were more likely to achieve higher scores on standardized math tests and receive higher grades in their math classes than those who did not participate in summer programs.
  • On average, students who participated in summer learning programs rank nearly 4 percentage points higher on standardized math tests.
  • Students saw increased attendance when they participated in summer programs, according to studies that reported on noncognitive outcomes.

“Summer learning programs, including those that target low-income children, have the potential to aid students academically, and the evidence suggests they can also provide support for noncognitive skills useful for learning,” said Lynch. “Given the continuing effects of the COVID pandemic, designing summer programs to support both academic and social-emotional development is especially important.”

Although there is evidence revealing the positive impact of summer learning programs, a report from the Center on Reinventing Public Education shows that most large school districts in the U.S. have done nothing to improve their 2022 summer learning programs.

“Our results show that schools, district leaders, and community groups should consider increasing their investments in summer programs as an evidence-based strategy to aid in pandemic-related educational recovery, particularly for children whose learning has been placed most at risk,” said Lynch. “It’s clear that summer math programs provide a meaningful boost to students and have the potential to advance longer-term STEM educational opportunities.”

While more school districts are using online programs to cut costs, their effectiveness is quite low. They also lack the benefits that result from in-person programs, such as social interaction, physical fitness, meals and childcare, according to Lynch.

“School districts and other providers will need to proceed carefully when designing their programs,” said Lynch.

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Micah Ward
Micah Ward
Micah Ward is a District Administration staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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