A Study of Summer Learning Loss

There is evidence from research conducted mainly in the United States of America that ‎pupils’ reading proficiency declines during the summer holidays and that the decline is greater ‎among pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.  Evidence from the US and elsewhere also ‎suggests that the gap expands over the course of primary schooling (i.e., there is a ‎progressive achievement gap).  The evidence for this is mixed in Ireland (Martin, 1979; ‎Eivers, Shiel & Shortt, 2005; Weir, 2001).‎

A small opportunistic study of this phenomenon in Irish schools, focusing on the break ‎between First and Second class, was undertaken by the Centre.  In 2007/2008, over 1,600 pupils ‎in First class in 39 schools took the Drumcondra Primary Reading Test-Revised (DPRT-R) as a ‎follow-up to the administration of the screening component of the Drumcondra Test of Early ‎Literacy (DTEL).  Approximately half of all participating pupils were in schools in the School ‎Support Programme (SSP) under DEIS.  In the first week of September 2008, the principals of ‎all 39 schools were sent a letter in which it was pointed out that summer learning loss had not ‎been investigated in Ireland and that their school’s involvement in the administration of the ‎DPRT-R so late in the previous school year presented an opportunity, albeit on a limited scale, to ‎do so.  The principals were invited to participate in a re-administration of the DPRT-R in mid-‎September.  One principal declined to participate in the study.

While over 1,600 pupils were tested in total, only those that had test scores on both ‎occasions were retained in the analysis (678 pupils in the 21 SSP schools, and 566 in the 18 non-‎SSP schools).  While all pupils took Form A of the reading test on the first occasion, about half ‎were given an alternate form of the test in the second administration.  A simple comparison ‎between the results on both occasions and a comparison of patterns in SSP and other schools ‎revealed some surprising results.  Contrary to expectations, significant gains rather than losses ‎between spring and autumn were observed.  Furthermore, students in SSP schools showed ‎larger average gains between spring and autumn that those in non-SSP schools.  However, it is ‎worth noting that the test scores of SSP students were well below the national norm for spring ‎‎(47.6) and autumn (53.0), while those of their non-SSP counterparts were slightly above the ‎norm on both occasions.  Several explanations for the findings were considered.  Regression to ‎the mean (the tendency for pupils with low scores on the first occasion to score more highly on a ‎second occasion) was investigated but found not to be a major factor.  The SSP group may ‎have benefited from a practice effect as their gains were somewhat lower when they took an ‎alternate form of the test on the second occasion than when they took the same form twice.  ‎Consideration was also given to whether some features of the SSP programme itself could have ‎helped to explain the larger gain among the SSP group.  For example, the SSP provides for out-‎of-school learning opportunities (including during summer).  Unfortunately, there are no data on ‎the extent of these activities in the sampled schools.  It is also possible that, through the ‎Home/School/Community Liaison Scheme, the work of coordinators with parents has enabled ‎them to better support their children’s out-of-school learning, including during the summer period.  ‎The issue of summer learning loss continues to feature on the Centre’s work programme, and it ‎will continue to seek opportunities to collect data that may shed further light on the issue.