Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, has been a point of discussion and concern in K12 education for decades. While some experts claim that summer learning loss is a myth, assessment data and other evidence show otherwise. COVID-19 school closures and prolonged virtual learning have disrupted learning for millions of K12 students, leading to unfinished learning and, for many, increased academic, social, and emotional gaps. As we prepare for this summer, students face an unprecedented academic, social, emotional, and mental health crisis…so it’s important to ask: How can summer programming close academic gaps and improve students’ social skills and resilience to put them on a trajectory of growth for the 2022-23 school year?

Yes, Summer Slide Is Real

Here is a snapshot of some recent findings regarding summer learning loss.

  • One study from the American Educational Research Journal showed that the average student in grades 1 through 8 lost 17% to 34% of the prior year’s learning gains during summer break. Additionally, those students who lost ground in one summer are more likely to lose ground in future summers.
  • More research concluded that, on average, students’ achievement scores declined over summer break by a full month’s worth of learning, with steeper declines in math than reading, and that the extent of loss was more significant at higher grade levels. In this study, lower-income students experienced more loss in reading than middle-class students.
  • Highlighting the income gap related to education is this staggering statement: Low-income children are nearly three grade equivalents behind their more affluent peers in reading by the end of the fifth grade due to summer learning loss.
  • More findings show that children in low-income households fall behind an average of two months in reading during the summer. And, as summer slide is cumulative, these learning losses add up each summer.

And this is just a small sampling of data illustrating the significance of summer learning loss and the achievement gaps it creates especially for at-risk learners. Plus, with unfinished learning due to COVID, academic, social, and emotional gaps are larger and increasing. Summer is an opportunity to meet students’ academic needs as well as address their social and emotional needs.

Tips for Addressing Summer Learning Loss

  1. Summer learning programs. As we mentioned previously, summer learning programs have proven to be effective in mitigating summer slide and closing achievement gaps, and that takes on extra importance this summer as students and teachers work to reduce address unfinished learning due to COVID disruptions. In addition to academic interventions, be sure to find a program that includes enrichment activities focusing on critical thinking and problem solving (as well as fun!) such as STEM/STEAM and robotics. Social-emotional learning and skills are also an important component (especially today) of high-quality summer programs.
  2. Make books readily available. Having access to books—especially for free—is important when it comes to addressing summer learning loss, particularly among low-income students. A public library is the perfect (and free) resource for providing families with access to a wide range of books for all reading levels. Allowing children to select their own reading titles leads to gains in reading achievement, including better reading comprehension, writing style, vocabulary, spelling, and grammatical development.
  3. Not only is journaling a great way to capture summer memories, it’s also excellent writing practice for students. Encouraging kids to write in their journal at least once a day keeps literacy and writing skills fresh while providing a means for them to express their creativity.

Addressing the Layers Within Summer Learning Gaps

When it comes to closing summer learning and achievement gaps, it’s important to remember that academics are only one part of the story. Equally as important are the social-emotional components involved with falling behind in school, a situation that all students have been facing since the pandemic made its way into our lives. Let’s look at how to address both.


Programs designed to accelerate learning, such as summer programming, have proven to help mitigate summer slide, especially for low-income students. For example, a study conducted in 2019 by the Center for Research and Reform in Education at Johns Hopkins University School of Education examined the relationship between participation in Catapult Learning’s Summer Journey program and student achievement. The primary analysis demonstrated that students across all grade levels who attended Summer Journey regularly returned to school with higher math scores than their peers who had low attendance.

Furthermore, a comparison of pre-test and post-test iReady scores in a large, urban market revealed positive gains, with students’ average scores increasing by 9.3 points in reading and by 8.5 points in math after completing Catapult’s Summer Journey program.

While comprehensive summer learning programs are ideal, simply reading over the summer can also help students—especially from low-income families—reduce learning loss. In an analysis of 41 summer reading programs, researchers found that these programs were effective at raising test scores, on average; additionally, low-income students benefited the most from summer reading programs. This follows the finding that students from low-income households with access to books over the summer see significantly more gains in reading scores from spring to fall than students from high-income households with access to books.

Simply put, summer learning goes a long way toward closing summer learning gaps and setting students up for academic success the following fall—especially important today as students and educators continue to address unfinished learning due to COVID on top of the summer slide.

Social-Emotional Learning

Equally important, though often overlooked, is the social-emotional aspect of summer learning. While academics are certainly a critical part of any summer learning program, it’s been shown that non-academic learning is key to any successful program. And never more so than now, as COVID-19 continues to inflict mental and emotional wounds on kids of all ages (not to mention adults). The pandemic has changed the world—possibly forever—and children especially need as much social-emotional support as they can get.

According to the Leveraging Summer for Student Access report, imparting non-cognitive skills that impact academic achievement and nurture a sense of community and belonging are hallmarks of a high-quality summer learning program. The report also illustrates the importance educators place on including enrichment activities, such as STEM/STEAM learning, in summer learning programs. Perhaps most importantly, according to the same report, summer programs that utilize community assets and spaces not only accelerate student learning, but they also “support the development of well-being, knowledge, and skills through the summer while promoting a sense of hope, belong, and anticipation for the coming academic year.”

Summer learning programs, such as Catapult’s Summer Journey, that offer family supports are designed to address the whole child—academics and social-emotional learning. As an example, Summer Journey offers both academic and family counseling, family workshops, and 1:1 wellness or academic check-ins so families remain engaged, supported, and up to date on their child’s progress.

How Catapult Learning’s Summer Journey Program Can Help

Our turnkey Summer Journey program accommodates the academic, social, and emotional needs of students and their families. Summer Journey offers robust educational opportunities and engaging activities designed to prepare students for success in the fall and beyond. Programs incorporate literacy and math intervention, STEM and robotics enrichment courses, social-emotional learning, and family support.