How One Public School System Mitigated the Summer Reading Gap

summer reading gap

Written by Kelli Marie Cedo, an English/Language Arts Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment Lead for Hampton City Schools in Hampton, VA. Previously, she was principal of Forrest Elementary School in Hampton. Cedo has also served as Title I coordinator, division contact for school improvement, literacy coach, academic coordinator and family engagement liaison in Virginia Beach, VA.

It was back in 2011, when I was Title I Coordinator at Virginia Beach City Public Schools, that I first understood just how serious the summer reading gap is—and first realized that a solution to this problem is within the grasp of our schools and our communities.

Researchers have long demonstrated that a lack of access to books over the summer months is academically devastating for lower-income students. The reading level of these students typically regresses by between 1 and 3 months over that period, while that of their high- and middle-income peers—even at the same school—stays constant or improves.

This outcome is not surprising, as the average low-income home contains between zero and three books, while a high-income home typically has 40 to 60 books. Higher-income children are also much more likely to participate in summer learning programs and visit public libraries while school is out. And, as research by the U.S. Department of Education has made clear, children will engage in more independent reading when they have greater access to books.

***

Our hope was that by providing texts for the home and working together with families to build a culture of reading, we would achieve real impact in closing the summer reading gap. To see if we had been successful, we undertook statistical analysis of K-5 students’ Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA) across all 13 of our Title I schools in the fall of 2013.

The results were better than we’d dared to hope. In all, 73 percent of students did not backslide in the reading level over the summer, and 39 percent had actually improved their reading levels while out of school. Over the previous summer, before our program had built momentum in earnest, around 70 percent of K-5 students had regressed in their reading levels.

To complement this quantitative data, we also surveyed parents, teachers, and principals on their experience of the program. The feedback we gathered was a rich source of learning–and encouragement. For example, one parent reported, “Having this home library changed the way our family interacts with reading.”

Another said “Our children are so happy when they get a new book for their library. Each child keeps their library neat and organized and they do indeed use it to choose books and read. It is their space and their books. From the bottom of our hearts, we appreciate having the home library helping us further our children’s education. It is something that we could not have done without the school’s program.”

***

Even after the success of our 2013 summer program, we were anxious about whether we’d be able to keep up the momentum and achieve impact across a much larger group of students and families. But when they ran the analysis of the expanded program in the fall of 2014, the results were hugely encouraging. A total of 70 percent of students had not regressed in their reading levels–and 35 percent had improved in their reading assessment. Our community had really sustained the program. Again, this was a major improvement on previous years.

We gathered feedback once again, and were thrilled with the positive response from both parents and educators. One first grade teacher said:

“The summer reading program was great. I worked at quite a few of the sessions and it was wonderful to see the children excited about the books and activities; many of our students do not go to the public library and parents often have difficulty picking out books at their child’s reading level. We had many of the children who attended the sessions regularly and it helped keep them from losing their momentum over the summer. The librarians who came from the public library were great at engaging the children.”

One of our Title I principals emphasized, “Children take pride in things that belong to them. The summer reading program builds on that pride by placing books into the hands of children who take pride in reading to find out what is inside.” He reported that more than 30 families participated in his school’s program, attending weekly events at the school library throughout the summer which were supported by the local public library. “Although it seemed to be common sense that it would benefit the children participating,” he said, “I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the actual data, as measured by the DRA, also demonstrated the success of reducing the ‘summer slide.’”

***

The number one lesson is simple: Summer matters. The second lesson is a tougher one for decision-makers to accept: Mitigating the summer reading gap takes resources. Funds must be found for an ongoing supply of texts, community outreach, and summer programming–in a context where funding is finite.

All of us who care about literacy must go out and argue for resource investment with passion and confidence, pointing out that this investment creates proven returns for students in the short term, and increases economic prosperity for the country in the long term.

Excerpted from Reading for Life, published by Kids Read Now. Copyright © 2017 by each contributing author. All rights reserved. Posted with permission of the publisher. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

AUTHOR: KRN Admin