Making the Most of Summer School: A Meta-Analytic and Narrative Review

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NICHCY’s Structured Abstract 78 describes the following:

Title | Making the Most of Summer School: A Meta-Analytic and Narrative Review

Authors | Cooper, H., Charlton, K., Valentine, J.C., & Muhlenbruck, L.

SourceMonographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 65(1), 1-118.

Year Published | 2000

Abstract
Summer schools serve multiple purposes for students, families, educators, and communities. The current need for summer programs is driven by changes in American families and by calls for an educational system that is competitive globally and embodies higher academic standards.

This research synthesis used both meta-analytic and narrative procedures to integrate the results of 93 evaluations of summer school. Results revealed that summer programs focusing on remedial or accelerated learning or other goals have a positive impact on the knowledge and skills of participants. Although all students benefit from summer school, students from middle-class homes show larger positive effects than students from disadvantaged homes. Remedial programs have larger effects when the program is relatively small and when instruction is individualized. Remedial programs may have more positive effects on math than on reading. Requiring parent involvement also appears related to more effective programs.

Students at all grade levels benefit from remedial summer school, but students in the earliest grades and in secondary school may benefit most. These and other findings are examined for their implications for future research, public policy, and the implementation of summer programs. Based on these results, recommendations to policy makers are that summer programs:

  • contain substantial components aimed at teaching math and reading, and
  • include rigorous evaluations, but also
  • permit local control of curricula and delivery systems.

Funds should be set aside to foster participation in summer programs, especially among disadvantaged youth. Program implementers should (a) begin summer program planning earlier in the year, (b) strive for continuity of staffing and programs across years, (c) use summer school in conjunction with summer staff development opportunities, and (d) begin integrating summer school experiences with those that occur during the regular school year. (Abstract by Author/JSTOR, amended.)

Background
When the typical 9-month school calendar with 3 months of summer vacation was established as the norm over 100 years ago, it was designed with the children of farmers, who needed to be home to help their parents harvest crops in the summer, in mind. Even though very few children work on farms today, the school calendar in most places in the United States still includes a 2-3 month vacation during the summer months. Many schools, school districts, colleges, and universities offer summer school programs during these months to serve a variety of purposes, including:

  • helping students maintain the skills they learned during the school year
  • remediating academic areas in which a student has failed or fallen behind
  • providing extended school year activities for students with disabilities
  • allowing specialized opportunities for students identified as having particular gifts or talents
  • preventing delinquent behavior
  • increasing positive attitudes towards school and self

This synthesis examines the overall effectiveness of summer school programs and whether summer school is particularly effective for certain groups of students or when used to accomplish specific goals.

Research Questions

  1. What is the effect of summer school on attendees?
  2. Are summer school programs effective at preventing delinquent behavior, improving academic performance, or school attendance?

Research Design
Meta-analysis and narrative procedures

  • Number of Studies Included | 93
  • Number of Subjects | The number of subjects ranged from 22 in the smallest study to 16,261 in the largest.
  • Years Spanned | 1966-1998

Research Subjects
All the studies in this meta-analysis examined children attending summer school programs in the United States between the 1960s and late 1990s. The children were mainly from low and middle SES groups. Many of the students were in summer school for remed

Age/Grade of Subjects
Kindergarten through high-school

Specified Disability
Many of the studies involved students with learning disabilities, emotional/behavioral problems, physical or mental impairments, and/or children who had been identified as at-risk, underachieving, or failing.

Intervention
Summer school programs designed to:

  • prevent delinquency
  • promote students who had failed or been retained
  • remediate learning deficiencies
  • prevent future academic problems
  • develop underachievers’ performance
  • improve attitudes towards school
  • provide academic enrichment
  • accelerate the academic progress of advanced students

Duration of Intervention
The summer school programs studied ranged in duration from less than 60 hours to more than 120 hours.

Findings

1. Of the studies that provided only directional information (i.e. studies in which effect sizes could not be calculated) there was clear evidence that summer school positively effects students’ achievement.

2. Children of middle class SES appear to benefit more from summer school programs than children from low-income families.

3. Summer school programs for students with learning disabilities have largely positive effects, while summer school programs for students with more severe disabilities had more mixed results and showed less effectiveness overall.

4. Summer school programs carried out in suburbs, small cities or rural communities had more positive outcome than programs in large cities.

5. Summer programs that were limited in size to fewer than 8 schools or classrooms were more effective than larger programs.

6. Students who received individualized instruction or participated in summer school programs of limited size (less than 20 students) made greater gains than students in programs with fewer opportunities for individual attention.

7. There was wide variation in the reported effectiveness of summer school programs requiring parent involvement; however, the average effect was positive.

8. Summer school programs lasting between 60 and 120 hours were more effective than programs that lasted less than 60 hours or more than 120 hours.

9. Acceleration programs showed mixed effectiveness on academic outcomes and measures of self-concept.

Combined Effects Size

1. Summer school programs for students with learning disabilities had positive effects, ranging from an effect size of 0.23 after adjustments for methodological confounds to an unadjusted effect size of 0.34.

2. Summer programs showed moderate effect sizes, ranging from 0.44 to 0.56, for children from middle SES families. Summer school programs for children from low-income families showed small but still significant effect sizes of 0.20 to 0.24.

3. Summer school programs carried out in suburbs, small cities or rural communities had higher effect sizes (ES = 0.34 to 0.44) than programs in large cities (ES = 0.24 to 0.29).

4. Summer programs that were limited in size to fewer than 8 schools or classrooms had effect sizes ranging from 0.42 to 0.90 while larger programs conducted in 8 or more classrooms had low effect sizes of 0.13 to 0.18.

5. Summer school programs of limited size (less than 20 students) had higher effect sizes (ranging from 0.38 to 0.47) than programs with more than 20 students in each class (ES ranges from 0.19 to 0.27).

6. There was wide variation in the reported effectiveness of summer school programs requiring parent involvement; however, the average effect was positive (effect sizes ranged from 0.53 to 0.90).

7. Summer school programs lasting between 60 and 120 hours were more effective (ES = 0.37) than programs that lasted less than 60 hours (ES = 0.20) or more than 120 hours (ES = 21).

Conclusion/Recommendations
Summer school benefits its participants, though the benefit varies depending on participant characteristics and the content and delivery of the program. The authors of this meta-analysis suggest several implications of summer school research for policy makers:

1. First, policy makers at all levels of government should continue to fund summer school programs, because summer school has been proven to help prevent summer learning loss, as well as remediate, reinforce, and accelerate learning.

2. Policy makers should use a significant amount of the funding for summer school programs to go towards reading and math instruction.

3. Funds should also be set aside for encouraging participation in summer programs, especially by disadvantaged students.

4. Policy makers should not micromanage summer school programs. Instead, they should provide schools and teachers with control over the structure and delivery of programs.

5. Finally, policy makers could contribute to future data-based decision making efforts by requiring rigorous formative and summative outcome evaluations of summer school programs.

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