Study finds 5 straight years of summer learning loss

Students lost an average of 39% of the learning they gained during the school year
By: | July 10, 2020
A new study warns that teachers should expect a wider than normal variability of summer learning loss among their students when classes resume in the coming weeks. (GettyImages/skaman306)A new study warns that teachers should expect a wider than normal variability of summer learning loss among their students when classes resume in the coming weeks. (GettyImages/skaman306)

Among growing concerns about the “Covid-19” slide, a new study has found that more than half of students experienced learning loss every summer between grades 1 and 6.

And these students lost an average of 39% of the learning they gained during the school year, according to a new report published by the American Educational Research Association.

These findings indicate that teachers can expect a wider than normal variability among their students when classes resume in the coming weeks, says study author Allison Atteberry, an assistant professor at the University of Colorado—Boulder.

“Many children in the U.S. have not physically attended a school since early March because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and some have likened the period we’re in now to an unusually long summer,” Atteberry says. “Because our results highlight that achievement disparities disproportionately widen during the summer, this is deeply concerning.”


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The study relied on a database kept by the assessment organization NWEA that holds more than 200 million test scores for nearly 18 million students in all 50 states.

The average student loses between 17% and 28% of school-year gains in English over the summer and in math, the loss varies between 25% and 34%.

The research also found that learning loss will occur even if all students had progressed at the same rate during the school year.

“Our results highlight that achievement disparities disproportionately widen during summer periods, and presumably the ‘longer summer’ brought on by Covid-19 would allow this to happen to an even greater extent,” Atteberry says. “Summer learning loss is just one example of how the current crisis will likely exacerbate outcome inequality.”

The inequality is not simply a result of in-school instruction. Family income, parental time availability, and parenting skill and expectations are also factors.

“Many social policies other than public education touch on these crucial resource inequalities and thus could help reduce summer learning disparities,” Atteberry said.

Confronting the ‘Covid-19 slide’

Many districts have developed plans to mitigate this extended period of potential learning loss.


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This spring, Miami-Dade County Public Schools launched its Securing Opportunities for Academic Recovery program, or SOAR, a two-part summer school that will begin online on June 8 and be highlighted by low teacher-to-student ratios and personalized instruction.

The focus is on credit recovery, summer reading and remediation for students with disabilities, students with an excessive amount of absences, and students who did not engage in distance learning.

“We fear, based on academic fragility, that if we do not accelerate these students to their full potential, they may be at risk of being held back next year or not graduate,” Superintendent Alberto Carvalho told District Administration. 


DA’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on K-12.