Addressing summer reading setback among economically disadvantaged elementary students

Richard Allington, Anne McGill-Franzen, Gregory Camilli, Lunetta Williams, Jennifer Graff, Jacqueline Zeig, Courtney Zmach, Rhonda Nowak; University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Journal of Reading Psychology
September 2010, forthcoming

It’s well known that low-income kids lose academic ground from June to August, while middle- and upper-income kids are apt to continue to gain (or at least stay constant) due to camp, libraries, and other summer enrichment. The experimental study reported here sought to test one way of ameliorating summer learning loss. Researchers supplied students from seventeen high-poverty schools in Florida with a dozen self-selected books each summer for three years. The control group, kids drawn from the same schools and matched to the treatment population on a variety of demographic and academic variables, received no books. Three summers later, the treatment students outperformed the control group on Florida’s state reading test (FCAT)—and reading gains from the poorest kids were even larger. Not surprisingly, most youngsters chose books that pertained to pop culture—not “curriculum relevant” titles. Evidently reading about Britney Spears and Hannah Montana (a couple of the favorites) is better than no reading at all. Analysts estimated that supplying low-income pupils with summer reading costs about $50 per child, but that the overall impact of this intervention is similar to that of (the much more expensive) summer school. In other words, this learning loss intervention is cheaper than solutions currently being used, and gets a lot more bang for the buck. While it’s typically bad practice for researchers to both provide and evaluate an intervention, the study is nonetheless worth attention, especially in tight economic times when we’re looking for cost-effective measures to improve student achievement. Look for it in the fall edition of the Journal of Reading Psychology.

By Amber Winkler

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