Study Confirms Horizons National's Long-Term Approach to Student Success

Horizons National programs that focus on long-term engagement with children from low-income families produce strong academic outcomes, according to a new study funded by The New York Life Foundation and the Scripps Family Fund for Education and the arts and conducted by Concentric Research & Evaluation (CRE).

Horizons engaged CRE to determine whether students who participate in the program for at least four summers achieve better academic outcomes than similar students who do not participate. CRE’s study found that, compared to peers, long-term Horizons students had:

  • Higher attendance rates and lower rates of chronic absenteeism
  • Higher scores on standardized assessments of elementary math and science
  • Higher GPAs in 9th grade, a critical transition year
  • More course credit earned in 9th and 10th grade
  • Fewer incidents of repeating a grade
  • Fewer disciplinary referrals

These promising results are consistent with effects found with other high-quality, intensive, multi-year interventions and begin to fill an important gap in the research looking at the long-term impacts of summer learning programs. 

Most research on summer learning has found that students from low-income families fall behind their wealthier peers over the course of the summer, either because they are losing knowledge and skills or gaining them at a slower pace. While several studies have measured the short-term effects of participating in a summer program, few have measured the long-term effects of participating over the course of multiple summers, making CRE’s study of Horizons a valuable contribution to the field.

Said Marlyn Torres, Senior Program Officer, The New York Life Foundation, “By the time a student reaches the 9th grade, research shows approximately two-thirds of the achievement gap is due to summer learning loss. The Horizons model is an effective summer learning program that helps counter this academic slide. Summer learning programs that foster the development of the whole child help students develop the skills and characteristics they need for future success in school and life.” 

Matthew Boulay, PhD, Founder and CEO of the National Summer Learning Association, agreed, noting that “These summer learning student outcomes reflect Horizons’ long-standing commitment to quality data collection and offer a significant contribution to the growing body of evidence on the long-term effects of summer learning. Horizons’ exemplary standards in programming not only inspire a joy of learning during the critical summer months but most importantly, set students up to thrive in the school year ahead.”

The study looked at fifteen Horizons program sites in seven states, and, because it focused on long-term participants in the program, included only sites in operation for at least four years. Each Horizons student in the study was paired with a student who did not participate in Horizons but attended the same school or a school with similar demographics and achievement scores. Researchers used a variety of characteristics to match students, including gender, race, and ethnicity.

The study was reviewed by Horizons National’s Research Advisory Board, comprised of leaders from across the country with specialties in areas including child development, urban poverty, K-12 education, rigorous evaluation methodologies, and the use of data to drive improvements in practice and policy.

Research Advisory Board member Gabriel Rhoads, Senior Evidence Director at Project Evident, said, “Horizons’ study highlights the promise of nonprofit-led evidence building, and is an important contribution to the field. The publication is a significant step in building an evidence base for a program that has scaled with fidelity through an affiliate model.” 

The findings offer promising new evidence that an intensive, multi-year summer program, like Horizons, can improve student outcomes.

Dr. Rebecca Maynard, University of Pennsylvania Trustee Professor of Education and Social Policy, noted that “Horizons is a unique educational and enrichment program for children in that it enrolls children prior to Kindergarten and continues to serve them year after year, at least through 8th grade. Amazingly, it has an 88 percent year-over-year retention rate, which is an indication of how much children and their parents value it. It is an ideal candidate for a rigorous study to determine the benefits of consistent access to enrichments like Horizons provides.”