Why (and How) Summer Matters

Posted on by Horizons National

Families and schools often worry about “summer learning loss” – the decline in academic skills that students experience during the summer months. For decades, Horizons has worked to combat summer learning loss by supporting academic and non-academic development through out-of-school learning programs that engage, stimulate, and enrich students’ lives.

When students join the Horizons program, we make a commitment for a minimum of 9 years. This practice of reinforcing relationships and learning over time is at the heart of Horizons’ success at narrowing gaps of opportunity. Recently, a study was published in American Educational Research Journal that supports Horizons’ approach, particularly our belief in the importance of serving students for multiple years.

The July 2020 study, published by researchers Allison Atteberry (University of Colorado) and Andrew McEachin (RAND) found that addressing learning loss over multiple summers, as Horizons does, is an effective way to curb this summer slide. 

Some of the study’s notable findings: 

  • Depending on their grade level, on average, students can lose between 17% and 28% of school year English and Language Arts skills over each summer.
  • Relative summer losses in math are larger; again, depending on grade level, between 25% and 34% on average of each school year gain is lost. 
  • A student who experiences learning loss in one summer is likely to show loss over multiple summers; a student who makes gains in one summer is likely to make gains in multiple summers.
  • Over a 5-year period, the average student with consecutive losses loses nearly 40% of their total school year gains during the intervening summers.

By participating in Horizons programs year after year, students have the opportunity to make consecutive learning gains, leading to better long-term academic outcomes. 

We are proud that this past summer, while very different, was no exception for thousands of students who depend on Horizons every year. Despite the challenges of COVID-19, Horizons programs across the country kept their commitment to students and families, making sure learning and enrichment still happened. While students may not have gathered in-person, the Horizons Network exhibited the agility and adaptability to support academic skills and social-emotional growth virtually and at safe distances.

As stated in the report, “There is growing evidence that summer interventions can help mitigate students’ SLL [summer learning loss].” We agree with the researchers. Summer and out-of-school time programs play a vital role in reducing and overcoming summer learning loss – and in improving overall academic achievement.

This past summer and new school year will have a lot to teach us all about supporting students and overcoming learning loss. It’s time for everyone involved with children – including educators, policymakers, funders, researchers, parents, and others – to call for increased attention and research on the potential for out-of-school time programs to play a significant role in repairing, for all students, the tremendous damage caused by the ongoing global health crisis.