Despite summer learning loss research dating back to 1906, other research has shown students across the board experience a “summer stagnation,” instead.

 A recent report from the Houston Education Research Consortium assesses the effectiveness of summer school in helping students keep pace between school years. 

According to the HERC report, Houston ISD’s summer school in 2016 was “not beneficial for either promoted or retained students” in reading scores for certain grade levels, but the importance of summer school remains for student promotion to the next grade, according to researcher Jie Min, doctoral candidate and author of the HERC report.

 “Even though the test scores might not be growing in the way that we would hope by attending summer school programs, it is still providing students an opportunity to perhaps be going to the next grade, instead of being held back,” Min said.

For students between 5th and 6th grade, 7th and 8th grade, retained students between 4th and 5th grade, and promoted students between 6th and 7th grade there is evidence that HISD summer school was not beneficial for either promoted or retained students, according to the report. For promoted students between 4th and 5th grade, retained students between 6th and 7th grade, students between 1st and 2nd grade, and those between 2nd and 3rd grade the evidence is not statistically significant to clearly show whether HISD summer school was beneficial.

HISD summer school in 2016 lasted 22 days, the report notes, and past research has suggested increasing the session to 35 days to produce a noticeable change in student achievement. Additionally, for more robust changes to take place, past research has noted that appropriate curriculum, qualified teachers, and student participation are all required.

For the 2018 HISD summer session, according to the report, several improvements were added and changed to potentially increase the achievement of students’ success in summer school, including:

  1. Universal screener results for reading and math were added to the promotion criteria.
  2. Teachers were to use screener results to identify specific summer learning goals for students based on their individual needs.
  3. The Interventions department partnered with curriculum to redesign summer courses in a way that provides teachers with tools for re-teaching the most commonly identified misunderstandings as well as tools for differentiation.
  4. The Interventions department also partnered with Scholastic to implement the use of literacy kits which include instruction based on three components: literacy skills, engagement skills, and social-emotional development. Teachers were trained on the use of these kits based on the grade levels that they were assigned for summer.
  5. Teachers were provided with checkpoints and data trackers so that they could ensure that students were mastering concepts daily according to their specific learning profile established by the Grade Placement Committee.
  6. Students took the reading and or math screener at the end of the summer session to determine if there was improvement in their scores as compared to the end-of-year screening window.
  7. The end of summer screening results was added as a criterion to consider when Grade Placement Committees met to determine promotion status for students.

“There’s reason to think these changes will benefit students,” Min said of HISD’s 2018 session improvements. “They are being more specific in terms of what kind of instruction they provide to the kids. They have instruction based on literacy, engagement, and social-emotional development.”

In collaborating with HISD to identify future areas of research, there may be an opportunity to conduct a follow-up study. “All the research we do is because we have talked to the district and they think it would help them make the best decisions,” said Erin Baumgartner, the associate director for HISD research and relations at HERC.