Q&A with summer slide expert Monica Logan

Monica Logan, vice president of program and systems quality at the National Summer Learning Association.

Monica Logan, vice president of program and systems quality at the National Summer Learning Association.

The only slide you don’t want to go on this summer

Also known as summer learning loss, research has shown that summer slide sets kids back academically each year, sometimes up to three months. Monica Logan is the vice president of program and systems quality at the National Summer Learning Association. The NSLA is a national group that advocates for greater access to high quality summer experiences that can help combat summer learning loss.

What is the summer slide?

The summer slide is what happens when kids are not engaged in high quality, enriching experiences over the summer. What slides is some of their academic growth. The data also shows that for kids who aren’t physically active during the summer, their obesity rates spike. During the school year kids have access to free and reduced-priced meals, but during the summer we know that, with schools closed, some kids don't have access to these high quality meals. The summer is a very important time for kids because it gives them a chance to explore learning in different ways outside of the school setting.   

How do we know that the summer slide is an issue?

What we know is that there is a difference in the test scores for exams that kids take in the spring, and then again when they come back in the fall. We see this difference which we can attribute to kids not doing anything in that summer space. The statistics also show that hunger and obesity are big issues during the summer. There is also more research going on now with socioemotional learning, but there aren’t as many metrics for that. The biggest stats that we know of deal with academics and obesity, but there are a lot of other things that the summer slide impacts.

What is the connection between the achievement gap and summer vacation?

A part of the summer slide is that if it keeps getting bigger and longer over the course of a young person’s academic career we see that it will significantly impact the achievement gap. The data shows that lower, middle and upper income kids learn at the same level during the school year. It’s a myth that just because a student is lower income they can’t learn in the same way. But the challenge for these kids is that they lack access to high quality opportunities during the summer.

Let’s say a kid ends the school year at a level 10, but then spends the summer without consistent healthy meals or educational activities and when they come back to school they’re back down to a level seven. Then the teacher has to spend two to three months reteaching material to get them back to the baseline. You lose that time.

What we have found is that the cumulative effect of kids losing ground each summer significantly compounds the achievement gap. The summertime is when there’s the greatest inequity. It’s about opportunity. If kids had equal opportunities they’d achieve in the same way, but a lot of those activities are closed for kids with different income levels.

The cost of high quality summer programs can be very high. What can parents and communities do to help prevent the summer slide?

For children in structured summer programs, what we recommend is four to six weeks, about six hours per day, and access to meals and field trips. But that’s not the case for most young people. Most kids are not in summer camps. While it would be optimal if all kids had access to these experiences, the formal summer program is just one way to do that. Most kids are with relatives and parents, and we have resources for at-home learning as well. Consider taking kids to local museums and libraries. There’s a lot more online learning happening now, too. Find ways for kids to be active and engaged in local parks and recreational activities. Teachers can recommend books and activities for the summer as well. I think there is also a lot of room for more opportunities for high school students to get access to internship programs that would allow them to provide income for their families, gain experience and help out local businesses.