4 Shifts to Summer School Excellence

Elevating Summer Learning: Math and Reading Strategies That Produce Double-Digit Gains edLeader Panel recording screenshot

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Summer school can produce substantial math and reading gains—that is, if shifts in approaches to summer school instruction and learning occur.

So contended educational leaders in the edLeader Panel “Elevating Summer Learning: Math and Reading Strategies that Produce Double-Digit Gains.” The panelists explained that building knowledge and skills in summer school requires transitioning from traditional short-term solutions that don’t help learners grasp content. They recommended four shifts to make in summer programs to drive student achievement.

Shift 1: Moving to Transferable and Conceptual Teaching

A 2022 University of Texas study analyzed more than 200 word problems from the PARCC assessment and the Smarter Balanced math test in elementary and middle school. The analysis revealed that using a keyword strategy (i.e., searching for words such as “less” and “more”) resulted in students choosing the correct problem-solving operation less than half the time for single-step problems and less than 10% of the time for multi-step problems.

Not an effective strategy. Yet, it reflects standard instruction that carries over to summer learning.

Programs that prioritize transferable conceptual teaching and critical thinking yield more immediate growth and see gains transfer back with students into the school year. The approaches create opportunities for students to think deeply and critically about language, numbers, and concepts rather than merely participating in skill and drill learning.

Shift 2: Specialized Summer School Curriculum

Typically, teachers adapt the year-round curriculum to teach in summer school. However, the modified curriculum often does not address priority standards nor respond to student data trends. Or, teachers might teach a unit that is not introduced during the school year but is not ideal for summer learning.

An evidence-based summer school curriculum focused on critical grade-level standards and grade-appropriate assignments is best for summer teaching and learning. Including high-quality instructional materials—lesson plans, pacing guides, assessments, and rubrics—is essential. Curricular flexibility is necessary to meet unique student needs.

The curriculum should emphasize acceleration rather than remediation to keep students out of the “spin cycle”—students remaining at the same level of learning despite moving onto higher grades. Summer school can help students address the parts holding them back from succeeding.

Let’s say students are in fourth grade: They are conceptually ready to discuss and think about fourth-grade material. If they are stuck on an aspect of second-grade math or reading, focusing on that component can bring them up to speed. Reteaching the entire second-grade curriculum does not catch them up.

Summer learning can bridge learning gaps in math and reading. Complex problems, rich mathematical discourse, routines, and small group instruction strengthen numeracy skills. Systematic phonics, close reading, and book studies boost reading skills.

Shift 3: Providing Summer Professional Development

Targeted, expert-led teacher development can prepare educators for effective summer school instruction, which should be research- and science-based and build grade-level and content-area-specific instructional expertise.

Professional development is best when it is an intellectual endeavor, which can involve, for example, deeply studying texts that students will read and debating ideas, or fully understanding math content to think about how learners solve a problem. Teachers engaging in conversation and intellectual thinking will be better prepared to educate their students.

Shift 4: Establish Systematic Assessment Practices 

Moving away from traditional data-collection practices can better inform summer instruction. Teachers can benefit from evidence-based assessment-analysis tools and methods to advance student achievement and gather consistent data.

Data must be available from the start through the end of the school year to understand where each student needs support and effectively prepare summer instruction. It is also critical to measure student learning during summer school. Pre- and post-assessments identify learning trends, pinpoint academic gaps, and determine progress. A learning artifact from the curriculum can center the monitoring and measuring of progress throughout a summer program.

Thoughtfully structured summer school programs can advance student achievement in a short amount of time, resulting in long-term academic success.


Learn more about this edWeb broadcast, Elevating Summer Learning: Math and Reading Strategies that Produce Double-Digit Gains, sponsored by Lavinia Group.

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Lavinia Group

At Lavinia Group, we inspire transformative change by offering a full suite of services to support academic growth in math and literacy. We’re passionate about creating equitable opportunities for all students and developing the skills needed to tackle grade-level content. Our services include consulting and instructional coaching, math and literacy curriculum (core & supplemental), professional development institutes, and our comprehensive, ready-to-implement RISE Summer Learning Program. Our team works to build capacity that is sustainable long after working with Lavinia Group and our approach to working with school leaders and teachers offers hands-on, immersive, side-by-side support.


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Article by Michele Israel, based on this edLeader Panel

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