Summer school programs net math gains


Rochester city schools students who participated in a summer program entered school this fall with a significant advantage in math over their peers, according to the early results of a RAND Corporation study.

The RCSD is one of five large school districts from around the country participating in the six-year study, which is part of a $50 million project funded by the Wallace Foundation. 
Superintendent Bolgen Vargas. - FILE PHOTO
  • Superintendent Bolgen Vargas.

The researchers know from prior studies that summer learning loss disproportionately affects low-income students. The study, “Building our Understanding of Summer Learning: Near-Term Findings of the National Summer Learning Project,” looks at whether school districts can develop and implement their own high-quality summer programs.

The researchers say that they also want to know if the gains that students make during the summer are permanent and can be carried into the new school year.

More than 5,600 students are participating in the summer programs, with about 500 from Rochester’s schools. The students attended at least five weeks of summer school, and the results were impressive in math. The students sustained a 17-21 percent increase in math skills over their peers going from third grade to fourth grade. 

“Those students who attended more often and received more instructional hours in math performed best on the math assessment,” according to a written statement from the researchers.

The students did not, however, see similar gains in reading or make significant improvements in social and emotional development, the study says.

Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas says that improving reading skills is difficult and often takes more time because it requires that students increase their vocabulary as well as improve their comprehension and speed.

But the study also cites key areas where districts can enhance the effectiveness of their summer programs. For instance, attendance, which remains a concern for city schools, is critically important. Increased attendance improved math assessments, according to the study.

And students whose summer reading teacher had just taught third or fourth grade performed better than students who worked with teachers who were not experienced teaching those grades. Also, teachers who scored higher on a Rand assessment of instructional quality saw higher reading scores for their students.

Rand plans to provide more results from the study, which is still in progress, over the next two years. 

Vargas says that the district has made a strong commitment to summer learning and has enrolled about 10,000 city students in programs. While the Wallace Foundation provides some funding and consulting support to implement the programs in the study, the district has made its own financial investment in summer learning. Even students entering prekindergarten will have the opportunity to participate in a summer program next year.

“This district is on the cutting edge of summer learning,” Vargas says. “During the next three to five years, the summer learning program is going to be a key component for turning this district around.”