Gearing up to tackle the summer slide

Kamiya Crocker does work during Alta Vista's Eagle Academy summer program. [Herald-Tribune archive photo / 2015]

Kamiya Crocker does work during Alta Vista's Eagle Academy summer program. [Herald-Tribune archive photo / 2015]

Backed by results, district expands summer learning programs

SARASOTA — With summer vacation peeking around the corner, the Sarasota County school district and local nonprofits are beefing up initiatives to prevent the effects of what researchers call the “summer slide,” or summer learning loss.

This summer, the district is expanding its 6-week summer learning academies at three Title I elementary schools — Emma Booker, Tuttle and Gocio — to include incoming first-graders in addition to incoming kindergartners. The district has also partnered with the Gulf Coast Community Foundation to provide an intensive reading program to struggling first-graders at Robert L. Taylor Community Center and all five Boys and Girls Club locations in Sarasota. The efforts are being cinched together by a Summer Reading Challenge sponsored by the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.

Research shows that the summer slide, if it gets worse and worse every year, can ultimately affect graduation rates and set kids back up to three months each summer. Children in low-income households are particularly vulnerable because they’re less likely to have access to high quality learning opportunities during the summer break, according to the National Summer Learning Association.

When we compared assessment scores from the previous school year, we noticed that across the board, almost without fail, student scores dropped.

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

(Click here to read an interview with Monica Logan of the National Summer Learning Association.)

While district initiatives to combat the summer slide are targeted toward low-income students, the phenomenon is visible all across the county, said Laura Kingsley, assistant superintendent for Sarasota County Schools.

“What we noticed was that across our district the summer slide is real,” Kingsley said. “When we compared assessment scores from the previous school year, we noticed that across the board, almost without fail, student scores dropped.”

Two years ago the district began tracking the summer slide using iReady, a test given to all kindergarten, first- and second-grade students. When they compared reading scores from the spring to scores from the fall after summer break, only three schools — Brentwood, Southside and Imagine School in North Port — showed improved reading scores following the break. All other schools showed a decrease in reading scores from the previous spring.

There was one unique exception at Alta Vista Elementary School. Students who participated in Alta Vista’s Eagle Academy, a summer program for students entering kindergarten through third grade, showed the most gains in the entire district.

Eagle Academy began five years ago with private funding from the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, but its success at mitigating the effects of the summer slide prompted the district to expand and fund the model at Emma Booker, Gocio and Tuttle.