School is out and the reality of the summer setback is starting to take hold. Summer fun is in full swing with students swapping textbooks for beach towels and parents busy with family vacations, camps, sports and keeping their children active and away from the television. However, both parents and students often overlook how much educational ground can be lost during the short three-month break from school, also known as the “summer setback.”
The official summer setback concept, as identified by sociologists Doris Entwisle and Karl Alexander in 1992, specifically refers to the loss of academic skills and knowledge children experience throughout the summer break. Multiple longitudinal studies conducted by Entwisle, Alexander, and a host of other researchers have compared students’ achievement test scores in subjects such as mathematics and reading at levels from kindergarten to college. These researchers have found that a “summer setback” is not only evident, but a serious issue that must be addressed.
Among Entwisle and Alexander’s findings, research shows that those students who receive little to no exposure to additional learning resources throughout the summer months can, in fact, fall behind academically, compared to those students who are regularly exposed to additional learning resources. Students can begin to fall behind as early as elementary school, which can initiate a dangerous, gradual course of educational loss that can affect students’ opportunities later in life. By the time students who regularly experience the summer setback enter high school, many are seriously disadvantaged, unmotivated, and at-risk, while others simply don’t have the grades or test scores to warrant entry into a college or university. It’s a summer slide that needs to be reversed.
The good news? It’s easy to keep summer setback at bay – from additional summer reading to engaging students through online and mobile applications. According to Grunwald Associate’s Living and Learning with Mobile Devices survey, 77 percent of homes have at least one smart phone and 46 percent of homes have a least one tablet. Given this statistic alone, it is evident that parents have an exceptional opportunity to utilize mobile devices to provide additional educational resources for their children throughout the summer, no matter where their travels make take them.
Reversing the summer slide
For example, as Entwisle and Alexander found, mathematics is an infamous subject for the summer setback. However, recent digital advancements in educational
resources, such as Pearson’s Virtual Nerd Mobile Math Application, are working to help combat the summer slide through applications that students like to use. The Virtual Nerd™ app provides free on-the-go access to a video library of more than 1,500 high-quality math tutorials aligned with rigorous standards, providing learners with fundamental math concepts for middle and high school. Students now can have access to math refreshers during the summer through their mobile devices almost anywhere at any time. The mobile nature of resources like Virtual Nerd gives students and parents easy access to helping ensure that gains made during the year are not lost.
While it is undoubtedly challenging to keep up a regular routine in a season packed with distractions and diversions, it is important that parents “pencil in” summer learning. As a researcher with focus on measuring the effect of eLearning tools, I would posit that mobile learning has the opportunity to positively impact the educational future of students who are willing to take advantage of the excellent free, digital resources that are available during their summer break.
Read more about summer setback
Rob Kadel is a research scientist focusing on measuring the effects of eLearning tools, tasks, and practices on student outcomes. He focuses on the use of social media for teaching and learning, one-to-one computing initiatives in schools, and gamification of higher education learning experiences. Prior to joining Pearson’s Research & Innovation Network, Dr. Kadel was a manager on the Academic Training and Consulting team at Pearson eCollege. He worked as an independent research and evaluation consultant for educational technology programs for six years and has also held faculty positions at Penn State University and Johns Hopkins University. In addition to his Pearson duties, he continues to teach online for the Department of Sociology at the University of Colorado, Denver. He holds a doctorate in Sociology from Emory University. He has much experience with the reality of the summer setback.