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Accelerating Recovery

Through Summer Learning

Amidst unprecedented educational disruptions, innovative summer learning programs are emerging as pivotal in bridging achievement gaps and fostering academic resilience.

Accelerating Recovery Through Summer Learning

Think back to that pivotal moment in 2020 when schools swiftly shifted to virtual instruction. The sudden transition left us grappling with uncertainties, navigating uncharted territory with limited resources and time. The concern for students' well-being and academic success remained, though we questioned how they would thrive in this new educational landscape devoid of the familiar classroom interactions.

Our worries were valid. The pandemic's effects on academic achievement have been profound, surpassing our initial estimations. However, amidst the challenges, the recognition of learning acceleration as a potent antidote to learning loss surfaced.

Understanding the Impact of Learning Loss and Pathways to Recovery

Research during the 2023-2024 school year has revealed significant learning gaps still exist. Particularly hard-hit are students in high-poverty schools. 

Yet, amidst these challenges, new findings underscore the urgent need for targeted interventions. Without significant, systematic support, one in three children in grades K-3 continue to face the risk of not reading at grade level by year's end. 

According to the report Test Score Patterns Across Three COVID-19-impacted School Years by Megan Kuhfeld, James Soland, and Karyn Lewis, the road to recovery is steep, with the average elementary student needing at least three years to regain their pre-pandemic academic standing. The timeline extends even further for older students.

However, these insights are not just a call to action, they are a roadmap for innovation in education. They highlight the critical importance of personalized learning approaches, the integration of technology in education, and the need for community and government support. 

Educators are already responding with remarkable adaptability, employing a variety of strategies to accelerate learning and address gaps. From leveraging data-driven instruction to embracing comprehensive support systems, the educational community is rallying to ensure that every student has the opportunity to thrive despite the setbacks.

Closing the Opportunity Gap: Strategies for Empowering Less-Advantaged Students

The pandemic has disproportionately impacted urban disadvantaged youth, threatening to reverse the hard-won progress educators have made in narrowing the opportunity gap. 

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, often referred to as The Nation's Report Card, shed light on this critical issue through its analysis of data from 8.3 million students in grades 3-8

Findings reveal the pandemic's educational setbacks have not been felt equally, with Hispanic, Black, American Indian, and Alaskan Native students facing the most significant declines in achievement.

At Harvard's Center for Education Policy Research, Thomas Kane emphasizes the critical need to swiftly address these disparities, warning of the enduring consequences if we allow these achievement gaps to persist unchecked.

The challenge in the post-COVID educational landscape is not just to address learning loss but to do so with determination and innovative strategies to ensure these setbacks do not leave a lasting mark on the students we are committed to serving.

Karyn Lewis of the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) emphasizes that the path to educational recovery spans well beyond the duration of federal recovery funds. It's crucial to surpass average growth rates to regain ground lost during the pandemic. The standards for success have evolved; it's no longer merely about improvement from the previous year but about advancing at an accelerated pace compared to pre-pandemic levels.

This moment beckons us to collectively reimagine educational success and progress. It requires a steadfast dedication to equity, the adoption of innovative teaching strategies, and the mobilization of resources and support systems to empower every child to realize their full potential. Together, we possess the power to transform this challenge into a springboard for change, fortifying our education system to be more resilient and inclusive than ever before.

Summer Learning: The Key to Academic Resilience and Growth

Summer school has risen in prominence as a key strategy for academic recovery, offering a beacon of hope for bridging learning gaps. 

However, the nation's approach to summer learning programs varies widely. Recent data underscores the remarkable impact of high-quality summer programs, which have been shown to combat the summer slide and deliver tangible improvements in students' math and reading skills.

In the aftermath of COVID-19, the conversation surrounding the most effective summer school methodology continues to evolve. Traditionally, summer programs have primarily aimed to prevent learning loss during the break. However, the past two years have prompted a critical reassessment of our strategies, weighing the merits of:

  • Remediation: The conventional approach focuses on reviewing missed content to fill gaps.
  • Acceleration: A forward-thinking method that introduces students to grade-level content while providing targeted support as needed.

In a study conducted by the Education Advancement Foundation (EAF), titled "Empower Through Acceleration," a powerful paradigm shift towards acceleration in summer learning is evident. The research illuminates the incredible effectiveness of acceleration-focused programs, demonstrating that students immersed in such initiatives overcome challenges and achieve remarkable academic growth compared to their peers in remediation-based approaches. 

Notably, students participating in acceleration-focused initiatives complete an average of 27% more grade-level work, surpassing expectations and unlocking their full potential. The study also brings attention to a crucial equity issue, revealing disparities in placement, where students of color and those from low-income families are often unfairly relegated to remediation programs despite demonstrating grade-level competencies. 

This evidence points to a compelling case for reimagining summer school as a platform for learning acceleration. By embracing this approach, we can unlock the full potential of summer learning to not just mitigate learning loss but to propel students forward, ensuring that every child, regardless of background, has the opportunity to thrive academically.

The Impact of High-Performance Summer Learning

As educators, our journey has evolved from merely navigating the unprecedented crisis to actively facilitating our students' recovery from its social, emotional, and academic impacts. This monumental task, addressing the most significant disruption in K-12 education history, is expected to span years. Yet, promisingly, certain programs are already showing remarkable academic strides.

Take, for instance, the Indy Summer Learning Labs the program showed evidence of narrowing of achievement gaps between historically marginalized students and their peers.

A collaborative analysis by the United Way and The Mind Trust highlighted a key achievement: consistent growth across all student demographics.
Screenshot 2024-05-02 at 2.02.36 PM
Black students achieved:

  • A 24 percentage point gain in basic and proficient scores for ELA and
  • A 22 percentage point gain in math.

Latino students achieved:

  • A 30 percentage point gain in basic and proficient scores for ELA and
  • A 29 percentage point gain in math.

Students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch achieved:

  • A 23 percentage point gain in basic and proficient scores for ELA and
  • A 22 percentage point gain in math.

Click Here to View the RISE Summer Learning Program 2023 Impact Report.

Further validation comes from the Indiana Department of Education's analysis, which positioned the Indy Summer Learning Labs favorably against other state summer programs. Remarkably, participants showcased statistically significant progress in end-of-year state assessments, with some signs of learning gains surpassing pre-pandemic levels.Our experiences with the RISE Summer Program have led us to identify three pillars of a high-impact summer learning initiative:

Equity and Inclusion: The program bridges the achievement gap for students across all subgroups.
Accelerated Learning: It propels students' learning pace beyond traditional, pre-pandemic methods.
Skill Development: The initiative fosters transferable skills in students that not only benefit them in the upcoming school year but also enrich teachers' instructional practices year-round.

As we confront the widening post-COVID learning gap, particularly among less-advantaged students, the 2023-2024 school year emerges as a pivotal moment. With the window for using federal pandemic learning recovery funds drawing to a close, our actions now will decisively shape the educational landscape for all students.

Featured Contributor

Julia Pockros

Julia is a dedicated educator, curriculum writer, and instructional leader with a strong commitment to advancing equitable outcomes for all students. She launched her teaching career as a 4th-grade literacy teacher in Washington D.C., where she guided her students to remarkable achievements, with 85% reaching proficiency on the PARCC exam, compared to the statewide average of 38%. Julia has continued to make a positive impact in public charter schools across New Orleans, Washington D.C., and Detroit. She holds a BA from Washington University in St. Louis, a Masters in Education Leadership from Relay Graduate School of Education, and is currently pursuing a Doctorate in Organizational Leadership at Vanderbilt University.

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