How do students of different socio-economic status learn during the school year and over the summer break?

Why is this question important? Generally, we charge the formal education system to teach children the academic skills they need to be successful and consider summer learning to be a secondary influence at most. Vast sums of time and money are invested to improve educational results at school, while little thought is generally given to improvement of summer learning.

See further discussion below.


Source: Schools, Achievement and Inequality: A Seasonal Perspective. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 23(2), 171-191 (2001)

Results: Low-, mid-, and high-socio-economic status (SES) students ended first grade with small differences in math scores but increasingly stratified as they progressed to 5th grade, with high-SES achieving the highest scores, followed by mid-SES, and low-SES the lowest scores. Score gains during the school year were similiar between the three SES levels. Differences in summer gains were the primary cause of stratification of scores by SES level.

Implications: Students of various socio-economic status (SES) levels are generally learning equally well during the school year. Summer learning is the primary cause of increasing test score stratification as students progress from 1st grade to 5th grades. Improved summer learning experiences could be the place to focus education investment for low-SES students, instead of during-school interventions.

Authors:  Alexander, K.L., Entwisle, D.R., and Olson, L.S., Johns Hopkins University

Publisher: SAGE Publications

Study Description: Math test results of 678 Baltimore, Maryland students were compared at the beginning and end of each school year, from grade 1st to 5th grade. Differences between scores at the beginning and end of each school year were attributed to school learning and differences between scores at the end of one school year and the start of the next were attributed to summer learning. The test applied was the California Achievement Test – Math Concepts and Applications (CAT-M).
Socio-economic status (SES) was classified into three levels based on a composite of mother's and father's educational levels, mother's and father's occupational status, and student's receipt of reduced-price school meals; an indicator of income level relative to family size.

SES = Socio-Economic Status
CAT-M = California Achievement Test - Math Concepts and Applications

Alexander, K. L., Entwisle, D. R., & Olson, L. S. (2001). Schools, achievement, and inequality: A seasonal perspective. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 23, 171–191.