Boston Summer Program Boosts Math, Reading, Social-Emotional Skills, National Study Shows
September 7, 2016
BOSTON - Wednesday, September 7, 2016 - Elementary students with high levels of attendance in Boston's voluntary summer learning programs earned a clear advantage in math and reading over their peers, according to new RAND findings from the largest research study ever conducted on summer learning.
The national study released today also points to an advantage in vital social-emotional skills, like self-regulation and relationships, for those who are high attenders of summer learning programs - defined as at least 20 days of a five- to six-week program.
"When we work together, set ambitious goals and have the courage and collaboration to follow through, students have an opportunity to thrive - the data in this report proves that," said Mayor Martin J. Walsh. "We are excited to have new evidence on what works as we expand summer learning in Boston and continue to be a model for the nation in reducing the 'summer slide'."
Boston is one of five cities participating in the $50 million National Summer Learning Project, funded by The Wallace Foundation. The report, Learning from Summer: Effects of Voluntary Summer Learning Programs on Low-Income Urban Youth, explains the impact of programs in summers 2013 and 2014. The six-year project will track student outcomes through spring 2017.
"Boston students who participated in summer learning walk into schools tomorrow better prepared to learn and succeed," said Superintendent Tommy Chang. "Summer learning is critical to student achievement and this study shows that we can accelerate learning all year long."
"This research compels us to look beyond the traditional school day and year when we think about education," said Chris Smith, executive director of Boston After School & Beyond, the city's lead partner on after-school and summer learning efforts. "There is work to be done, and we will collaborate with programs to improve our impact on students."
The study showed that, after the first summer, students who attended at least 20 days outperformed the control group in math, and the improvements persisted through the school year. After the second summer, high attenders outperformed the control group of students in math and reading, both in fall 2014 and in the following spring.
The academic advantage for the students with high attendance after the second summer translates to between 20 percent and 25 percent of typical annual gains in mathematics and reading, the study found. High-attending students were also rated by teachers as having stronger social and emotional competencies than the control group students.
Boston's programs, which feature partnerships among a wide array of enrichment programs and an explicit focus on social-emotional skills, had a greater share of students who were high attenders than the five-city average, reaching 73 percent in year one and 67 percent in year two, compared to 63 percent and 60 percent nationally.
The RAND research seeks to find out whether and how voluntary summer programs can help low-income students succeed in school. Summer is a time when low-income students lose ground relative to their wealthier peers, but it also holds promise as a time to improve outcomes for them by providing additional opportunities for academics and enrichment.
The study's results are drawn from all five districts, which also include Dallas, Duval County (Fla.), Pittsburgh and Rochester, N.Y. Each district offered five to six weeks of free summer programs that included enrichment activities and instruction in math and English language arts.
"Until now, we didn't know if urban school districts could offer high-quality summer learning programs for low-income students and whether they would make a difference for children," said Will Miller, president of The Wallace Foundation. "We have learned two important things: That high-quality summer learning programs are capable of helping disadvantaged students succeed in school, and that high attendance is crucial to delivering these benefits."
These findings are correlational but controlled for prior achievement and demographics, giving researchers confidence that the benefits are likely due to the programs and meeting the requirements for promising evidence under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.
Researchers have less confidence that social-emotional outcomes were due to the programs, given the lack of prior data on these competencies.
For students to experience lasting benefits from attending summer programs, the report recommends districts and their partners: run programs for at least five weeks; promote high attendance; include sufficient instructional time and protect it; invest in instructional quality; and factor in attendance and likely no-show rates when staffing programs to lower per-student costs.
A total of 574 Boston Public School students participated in the study across seven program sites - Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston, Courageous Sailing/Community Boat Building, USS Constitution Museum, Hale Reservation, Tenacity, Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center, and the YMCA of Greater Boston.
These programs participate in the Boston Summer Learning Community, a network convened by Boston After School & Beyond and BPS that works to strengthen student skills, share best practices, and pursue continuous improvement. In July 2015, Mayor Walsh and Superintendent Chang set a goal to reach 10,000 students in 100 summer programs by 2017 through this network. This goal was exceeded a year early.