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Help stop summer learning loss

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Guest editorial: David Raleigh

Summer has finally arrived and with it comes all the things we’ve grown to appreciate about those few warm, wonderful months of the year. Cook-outs, fishing, family outings, vacations, going swimming, summer learning loss … wait, what … summer learning loss? That’s right, summer learning loss has been around for as long as children have been getting out of school for summer in early June and not returning until mid-August. A group of researchers from the University of Missouri and Tennessee State University (Cooper, Charlton, Greathouse, Lindsay, and Nye, 1996) define summer learning loss as “the loss in academic skills and knowledge over the course of summer vacation.” The intent of this column is to provide you with research regarding summer learning loss as well as information and valuable tips on what parents and community members can do to help deter its effects on our children.
The landscape of education in our state has changed dramatically over the past couple years, as our main focus has shifted to preparing students for college and career readiness after graduation. What we expect our students to know and do has intensely increased at every grade level, not just for our high school juniors taking the ACT. Therefore, none of our students can afford any amount of summer learning loss and still be expected to achieve at the high levels we currently expect of them. KDE’s new accountability model holds every school accountable for closing achievement gaps and moving more students to the proficient and distinguished performance levels on the state test.  All young people experience learning losses when they do not engage in educational activities during the summer. Research shows that students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning of summer vacation (Cooper, 1996).
While summer learning loss plays a role in all our students, research conducted by Johns Hopkins sociology Professor Karl Alexander and his colleagues shows that low-income youth suffer significantly from a loss of academic skills over the summertime.  Statistically, lower income children begin school with lower achievement scores, but during the school year, they progress at about the same rate as their peers. Over the summer, it’s a dramatically different story. During the summer months, disadvantaged children tread water at best or even fall behind.   
Parent involvement plays a key role in reducing summer learning loss.  The majority of the literature which examines the effects of the summer learning loss lends to the importance of involving families in the implementation of summer reading programs. OCPS principal, Sharen Hubbard says, “Just because school is out, it doesn’t mean that reading and learning should stop.  We know that the more children read, the better their fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension will be.  The key is to get books in the hands of children during the summer break.”  Mrs. Hubbard suggests that parents accompany their children to the Owen County Public Library on a consistent basis and help children pick books of interest to them.  Have a quiet time set aside each day and/or night for reading/looking at books. She also recommends that children attend the Summer Reading Program at the Owen County Public Library.
According to new OCHS principal, Duane Kline, summer is a terrific time to work with reluctant readers since they don’t have the added pressure of having to read school-assigned material.  He suggests parents spend a great deal of time talking to their child about what interests him or her.  Mr. Kline states, “This is the key to turning the biggest non-reader into someone who can’t wait to get their next book.”  “If they want to read about baseball, or monster trucks, or hunting, or romance novels...LET THEM,” he says.  Mr. Kline insists that parents can certainly be the gatekeeper for what gets read in their home, but he also warns to not make the child feel like the only “good” reading materials are books that the school would assign.  “Star Trek novels are my personal favorites!” declared Mr. Kline,
For more information on what parents can do to be more involved with their child’s education and helping schools close achievement gaps, I encourage you to contact the principal at your child’s school, Danny Osborne (Director of Curriculum & Instruction) or me.  We always look forward to serving the children of Owen County and their parents.