*The following is excerpted from an online article posted on EurekAlert.
Following U.S. students across five summers between grades 1 and 6, a little more than half (52 percent) experienced learning losses in all five summers, according to a large national study published today. Students in this group lost an average of 39 percent of their total school year gains during each summer. The study appeared in American Educational Research Journal, a peer-reviewed publication of the American Educational Research Association.
“Many children in the U.S. have not physically attended a school since early March because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and some have likened the period we’re in now to an unusually long summer,” said study author Allison Atteberry, an assistant professor at the University of Colorado–Boulder. “Because our results highlight that achievement disparities disproportionately widen during the summer, this is deeply concerning.”
For the study Atteberry and her co-author, Andrew J. McEachin, a researcher at the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research organization, used a database from NWEA, which includes more than 200 million test scores for nearly 18 million students in 7,500 school districts across all 50 states from 2008 through 2016.
The authors found that although some students learn more than others during the school year, most are moving in the same direction–that is, making learning gains–while school is in session. The same cannot be said for summers when more than half of students exhibit learning losses year after year.
Twice as many students exhibit five years of consecutive summer losses–as opposed to no change or gains–as one would expect by chance, according to the authors.
“Our results highlight that achievement disparities disproportionately widen during summer periods, and presumably the ‘longer summer’ brought on by Covid-19 would allow this to happen to an even greater extent,” said Atteberry. “Summer learning loss is just one example of how the current crisis will likely exacerbate outcome inequality.”
Among the students studied, depending on grade, the average student loses between 17 and 28 percent of school-year gains in English language arts during the following summer. In math, the average student loses between 25 and 34 percent of each school-year gain during the following summer.