New Study Evaluates Summer Learning Acceleration Efforts

Allison Crean Davis

After experiencing over a year of educational disruptions due to the pandemic that frequently had students learning and teachers teaching through laptop screens, there is widespread concern (and data to suggest) that students, particularly those already facing disadvantages, have fallen behind academically, socially, and emotionally. Summer 2021 provided a critical opportunity for schools to mitigate this learning slide through summer learning and enrichment programs.

For many students, summer 2021 offered their first opportunity in many months to reunite with peers and adults in a group setting. With evidence that educationally rigorous and fun summer learning opportunities can help children make significant academic and social strides, robust funding from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) to support learning acceleration efforts, and a push from the Secretary of Education to provide summer learning and enrichment programming for children across the nation, summer 2021 took on a new significance and sense of urgency for America’s children. The rationale, funding, and incentive for a nationwide summer learning experience was stronger than ever.

But what actually happened? Did summer learning opportunities unfold across the nation in 2021? Where summer learning occurred, what kinds of programs were offered? Did students, particularly those with the greatest learning needs, enroll and attend these programs? What challenges might districts have experienced launching summer learning opportunities during a lingering pandemic? What successes occurred in spite of these challenges?

Working with the Wallace Foundation, Westat is conducting the National Summer Learning & Enrichment Study to gather nationwide data and examples of how states and districts delivered their summer 2021 programs. Conceived of and launched within a matter of weeks, this study is currently gathering information from states and a nationally representative sample of districts through surveys, interviews, and publicly available documents that will describe:

  • How educational agencies tailored summer learning and enrichment experiences to match student needs
  • What kinds of programs they included in their portfolio of summer offerings
  • The degree to which they offered academic, social-emotional, and programming options focused purely on fun and reconnection
  • How they funded summer programming
  • Challenges they faced in planning for or delivering successful summer learning and enrichment opportunities
  • How students benefited

“The field is hungry for lessons that can drive planning for summer 2022, as well as findings that might suggest how learning can be accelerated during the traditional year,” notes Allison Crean Davis, Ph.D., an Associate Director and project director of the work. “Westat has committed to sharing interim findings of national trends and lessons that can guide ongoing work, and will create a comprehensive report in 2022 that will summarize overall results. The findings will help state and district education agencies, policymakers, and research audiences, all of whom will be interested in the impact of summer learning in the years ahead.”

The findings will help state and district education agencies, policymakers, and research audiences, all of whom will be interested in the impact of summer learning in the years ahead.

- Allison Crean Davis, Ph.D., an Associate Director, Education Studies

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