Feb 12, 2013 by Hallie Smith, MA CCC-SLP

summer school effectiveness

For many educators, summer school planning is in full gear! Districts are determining the who, the what and the how, and all with limited resources.

When I was working in the school system, summer school left something to be desired. The students were doing the same activities from the school year (and were still bored by them), and the teachers were working with students they didn’t know, struggling to individualize instruction. Making an effective summer learning program isn't easy; I appreciate the work that goes into making any instructional plan effective. Educating our students, during the year or summer, is not for the faint of heart. It takes an enormous amount of collaboration, planning, expertise, creativity and energy (lots of energy!) to be done well. 

The Rand Corporation’s 2011 report on summer school effectiveness makes many recommendations; here are just a few:

  1. Do something different. Often the students coming to summer school are those who have struggled during the year. Summer school is the ideal time to try something new, to include enrichment activities, and to engage these kids in a new way.  The Rand Corporation’s report recommends moving beyond remediation to “…go beyond "drill-and-kill" instruction and provide students with (1) expanded learning through innovative instruction that accelerates learning and (2) opportunities for enrichment.”
  2. Individualize instruction. This is nothing new: we know differentiating instruction leads to better learning. Summer school is an ideal time for this, but there are still only 4-6 weeks and more kids than one teacher alone can target in any given day. One effective way to individualize is through technology.  When teachers are individualizing instruction during guided reading groups, for example, let the computer differentiate for the students who are (supposed to be) reading independently. The Reading Assistant™ program is the perfect tool for this – it’s an online reading software that uses voice recognition to “listen” to each child as he/she reads aloud, providing individualized reading coaching and decoding support.
  3. Incent students to show up.Attendance is key: no educational program is effective when the students don’t come to school. When students are challenged, having fun, learning something new, feeling successful, and their parents are involved, it’s a recipe for success. The Rand Corporation’s report suggests incentives such as “payments, prizes, parental pledges, parental benefits, bus passes, and enrichment opportunities.”

After all is said and done, it’s important to know whether your summer school program was effective. Did all the work you put in lead to improved reading scores, for example? For schools that used Reading Assistant in their summer school programs, the answer was a resounding yes:

  • In a 4-week summer program in Marion County, GA, students who used Reading Assistant gained more than 6 months in reading comprehension, on average.
  • In a 5-week summer program in Wayne County Public Schools in North Carolina, students improved from the 21 stpercentile to the 30 thpercentile after working with Reading Assistant—a statistically significant improvement. They also improved their average reading level, moving from “struggling readers” to “emerging readers.”

Is your district on track to make this the best summer school yet? If there were two recommendations I’d make, I’d say:

  1. Read the Rand Report and
  2. Use the Reading Assistant program.

For further reading:

Rand Report:  Make Summer Count 

Results on Reading Assistant: 

Students jump from 21st to 30th percentile in reading after summer school with Reading Assistant

One-half year increase in reading after a one-month summer program using Reading Assistant