Setback' the smoking gun
in the 'reading gap' between rich and poor?
by Jim Trelease © 2005,
districts have been addressing the pronounced gap in reading scores
between rich and poor students, all to little avail. As much as the
disadvantaged students are remediated, there remained a persistent
setback when students returned from summer vacation. In the September
2003 issue of Phi Delta Kappan, researchers Richard
Allington and Anne McGill-Franzen point to
this as the possible smoking gun in their article "The Impact
of Summer Setback on the Reading Achievement Gap." (8
pages) Appearing in the same month's issue of The Reading
Teacher, Wisconsin educators Denise Malach and Robert
Rutter took some of the same research and decided to do something
to alleviate the "setback" at one elementary school in Green
The Kappan authors
review the substantial body of research that districts are ignoring
at their own risk: "Available
research indicates that the reading achievement of poor children, as
a group, typically declines during the summer vacation period, while
the reading achievement of children from more economically advantaged
families holds steady or increases modestly."
An analysis of the research of Donald
Hayes and Judith
Grether with high- and low-poverty students in 600 New York
City schools showed that rich and poor students had seven-month difference
in scores at the beginning of second grade but this widened to a
difference of two years and seven months by the end of grade six.
What made this particularly striking was the research showing
little or no difference in these students' achievement when school
was in session: They learned at the same pace. As Hayes and Grether
"The differential progress made
during the four summers between 2nd and 6th grade accounts for
upwards of 80 percent of the achievement difference between economically
advantaged ... and ... ghetto schools."
The Wisconsin authors noted that a Green Bay
(WI) elementary school's second-grade teachers found enormous
discrepancies between student evaluations by first-grade teachers
at the end of first grade and where many of those students were when
they started second grade. Much of it pointed to the "summer
After debate and consultation, the staff came up with
a program called Continued Connections in
which three teachers manned a converted recreational vehicle and visited
five central locations in the school's service area, once a week. Targeted
incoming second-graders could visit the brightly decorated vehicle
as often as they wished and were given instruction, encouragement,
and books to read. In addition, their parents often attended and could
observe the lessons. Nontarget children also could visit the RV and
borrow books for SSR.
The students served by the program were 84 percent free-lunch
qualified children who came from a largely minority population, including
Hispanic and Hmong. Seventy-nine different students visited the RV
class (40 from the target population) a total of 576 times.The 48 days
of instruction lowered the normal summer setback from 12 weeks to two
weeks. Target children received 317 individualized lessons, and 563
books were circulated (311 by target students). Seventy-six percent
of the target children improved or maintained their end-of-year scores,
as opposed to 59 percent of target students who didn't participate
in the program.
The lesson here is an obvious one: If we wish to close
the gap between rich and poor in this nation and we know where the
gap grows and widens, then it is criminal to ignore it and not do what
Green Bay did. It is a program that is easily replicable. The only
drawback is that test-makers and textbook publishers won't be making
much money off it.
— summarized from:
"For nine months kids go to school, but in summer this
school goes to the kids," by Denise A. Malach and Robert
A. Rutter. The Reading Teacher,
September, 2003, pp. 50-54.
Books Is Found
To Ward Off ‘Summer Slump’
By Debra Viadero
From Education Week, May 5, 2004
school pupils read four or five books during the summer can
prevent the reading-achievement losses that normally occur
over those months, a study suggests. Published last month in
the Journal of Education for Students
Placed at Risk, the findings
are based on surveys and test data on 1,600 students in 18
elementary schools in an unnamed suburban district in the Middle
Regardless of race,
socioeconomic level, or previous achievement, researcher Jimmy
S. Kim found, children who read more books fared better on
reading-comprehension tests in the fall than their peers who
had read one or no books over the summer.
Though the differences between the heaviest readers—those
who had read at least four or five books—and those who
had barely read at all were small, he said, they were about the
same size as the average summer reading loss documented in other
studies on the "summer slump."
"From a policy perspective, this study shows
that maybe we need to spend more money to get books into kids’
hands," said Mr. Kim, who was a research associate for the
American Academy of Arts and Sciences, in Cambridge, Mass., when
he undertook the study. He is now a K-12 research associate for
the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University.
"From a school perspective," he added, "maybe
we need to think about having all kids read and do a simple writing
activity based on their books over the summer."
Studies since the
1970s have pointed to reading as one way to stem summer learning
losses and bridge the achievement gaps that widen over that
time between many poor and minority students and their better-off,
white, and Asian-American counterparts.
Less research exists
on how best to encourage students to read over the summer.
Some districts have started incentive programs. Others publish
required reading lists, and some educators even mail packets
of books to students.
The district Mr.
Kim studied required rising 6th graders to read at least one
book over the summer and write a story or report about it.
Several schools within the district asked parents to verify
that their children had read a book.
Mr. Kim found both
strategies increased the likelihood that students would read
more. Only about half the children in every racial and ethnic
group, however, said they had met those requirements.
Any strategy to promote summer reading is unlikely
to close achievement gaps by itself, said Barbara Heyns, a New
York University sociologist who has studied the summer slump. "If
you have a diverse group of kids, and only the middle-class kids
read, then it’s going to help the middle-class kids even
Both she and Mr.
Kim cautioned that the new findings showed only that reading
was associated with better achievement, not that it caused
the differences in reading scores.
Reading & the Ethnic Achievement Gap"
by Jimmy Kim, The Center for Evaluation, American Academy
of Arts and Sciences
of Education for Students Placed at Risk (JESPAR)
April 2004, Vol. 9, No. 2, Pages 169-188
On the subject of summer
school, when The
New York Times ran an article on New York City's summer school
struggles ("Good and Bad News
Cited in Summer School Turnout," July 23, 2004) it
elicited this Letter to the Editor:
July 27, 2004
When a Child Is Struggling in Pre-K
To the Editor:
As it now stands in many New York City school districts,
a child in pre-kindergarten cannot under any circumstances repeat
the year, even if parents, teachers and supervisors agree that
the child would benefit from another year of pre-K and it might
prevent him or her from failing later. Yet in third grade, children
are forced to repeat the year if they do not pass the tests.
Even though it could prevent four years of struggling
or failure, the city will not allow the preventive measure of
an extra year of pre-K. Children can get help only after they
fail, which, by then, may be too late.
Doesn't it seem backward not to allow children a
better start but only later require remediation? Doesn't it seem
financially foolish to save money early when it will cost more
Can't we allow teachers and parents, who know children
best, to make this judgment call and help more children succeed?
New York, July 23, 2004
(The writer is a staff developer,
Center for Universal Pre-K,
Bank Street College)
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