More than 100 years of research have documented the summer reading slide, the loss of skills that students experience from the end of one school year to the beginning of the next. Like musicians or athletes, if students don’t practice, they tend to lose their skills. Over the three months or so of summer, many kids experience decay in their academic abilities, especially when they don’t have opportunities to read.

Research has also suggested that the summer slide is particularly harmful to students from low-income backgrounds. Because they tend to have limited access to quality reading materials, quality libraries, and other resources that would help them sustain their literacy skills, low-income students lose about two months’ worth of grade level equivalency in reading skills over the summer. Middle-class kids, meanwhile, tend to pretty much hold constant over the summer.

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In addition, research has shown that these summer learning deficits that low-income children experience accumulate year after year. As they go through school, their achievement scores fall farther and farther behind the scores of their more economically-advantaged peers. In fact, these authors found that by the beginning of high school, about two-thirds of that income-based achievement gap was explained by the summer learning differences.

About the Author:

Geoffrey D. Borman, Ph.D., is the president of Measured Decisions Inc. and a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He can be reached at

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