Learning gaps can widen when school is out—here’s why summer learning has major potential for underserved students.

4 ways to address learning gaps for underserved students


Learning gaps can widen when school is out—here’s why summer learning has major potential

While it is now clear that the pandemic has had a significant impact on student learning – especially for historically underserved students – we are still discovering the most effective ways to help students recover. It turns out that summertime has the potential to be a big part of the solution for some of our most marginalized students. 

Recent findings from NWEA’s research team show the power of summer learning in changing academic trajectories for students. More specifically, the studies reveal that students with disabilities, rural students, and English learners make academic gains at rates equal to or faster than their peers during the academic year but experience greater learning loss when they’re out of school in the summer. The backsliding is so significant that it causes persistent or growing achievement gaps over the course of these students’ academic careers.

The lesson for pandemic recovery is clear. Summer learning provides an underutilized opportunity to help students regain lost ground due to COVID-19 and ensure that achievement gaps do not continue to widen. It should also be part of longer-term strategies to advance learning for historically underserved students. When summer learning is not part of the instructional strategy, the research suggests that it may lead to persistent opportunity gaps and diminished school-year gains over time.  

So, what can education leaders do to provide more summer learning opportunities for historically underserved students? Here are some ways, based on the research, that schools can use the summer months to transform educational outcomes:

1. Prioritize students with the highest needs and offer support for accessing summer learning programs

Historically underserved students face unique challenges when it comes to accessing summer learning programs. For example, transportation is a particularly big problem in rural districts. State and district leaders should consider covering the cost of transportation, and arranging for the logistics, to ensure students can attend programs. Different groups also need different things. Students with disabilities receive services during the school year, but lose some or all access to those over the summer. Finding ways to extend those services, and the connections of students with disabilities to their educational community when school is not in session is essential for their success.

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