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Summer Learning

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Summer learning has been a common practice to provide additional learning time for remediation, acceleration, and enrichment. As school and district leaders consider options for recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, summer learning programming can be a useful strategy.

Research on equitable summer learning indicates the following core components achieve the greatest positive impact on student learning, mental health and social emotional development. Consider these strategies helpful reminders when designing programming for summer school.

Best Practices

Planning for Summer Learning

A key to achieving outcomes for summer learning programs is effective planning.

  • Establish the purpose and goals of summer programming by ensuring that there is a clearly articulated purpose for summer learning that connects to the school’s vision and mission.1
  • Establish goals for summer learning that are tied to learning and school-year metrics, such as fall assessments2 or diagnostics.3
  • Plan for sustainability to encourage consecutive summers of participation for students.4

Structuring Summer Learning

The structure for summer learning sets the stage for student outcomes.

  • Summer learning has the largest effect on student achievement when it is five5 or six weeks6 in duration and four to eight hours a day.7
  • Summer learning programs create the highest gains in achievement when there are small class sizes. Twenty students or less8 with as few as thirteen in grades K-3.9
  • Identify ways to reduce barriers by providing, transportation, and meals free of charge to facilitate access for families with low incomes
  • Provide flexibility for families through full and part day options, flexible drop off times, and regularity of attendance, especially when early planning was not available for families.10

Designing Instruction for Summer Learning

In order to achieve positive outcomes, instruction must be carefully designed.

  • Use curricula that is evidence-based, aligned to school-year activities and students’ learning goals11, and is experiential.12
  • Maximize participation and increase engagement and time on task through hands-on activities, project-based learning, enrichment, and field trips.13
  • Focus on success in the upcoming academic year by aligning activities to the upcoming grade in a few critical areas.14
  • Support effective instruction through teacher professional development15and coaching16provided by administrators and/or coaches, and include any additional staff (paraprofessionals, tutors, mentors) who will be supporting instruction.17

Staffing Summer Learning

Ensuring qualified, trained, and motivated staff for summer learning is critical.

  • Select highly qualified teachers and tutors for academic programming, and provide opportunities for effective personnel development.
  • Teachers selected to deliver summer instruction have been found to be most effective when they are:
    • motivated
    • certified and highly effective during the school year.
    • teach a grade level that they teach during the school year, or the grade level immediately below.
  • Tutors have been found to be most effective when having participated in effective professional development on the topics for which they will be providing professional development and receive ongoing support or coaching.18

Engaging Students and Families for Summer Learning

Summer learning can only be effective if the right students are targeted and families are effectively engaged.

  • Target outreach to families and enroll students.
    • Determine which students summer programming will target, prioritizing demonstrated student needs, students from families with low-incomes, and students that do not typically access educational experiences during summer months.19
    • Target families for enrollment, providing:20
      • clear dates which are communicated early,
      • an easy registration process,
      • clear enrollment deadline, and
      • clear attendance policies.
  • Engage the community
    • Engage the whole community21 to provide culturally relevant enrichment activities and offer balanced summer programming and services, consider
      • libraries and museums
      • community mental health services
      • recreation departments
      • community early care and education programs
  • Scale up existing programs that have demonstrated positive impact
  • Engage students and families during each phase of planning, implementing, and evaluating summer programming.


1 Browne, 2019; NSLA, 2020

2Browne, 2019

3 Reopening

4 NSLA, 2020

5Augustine, et al, 2016; McCombs, Augustine, Pane, & Schweig, 2020; McEachin, Augustine, & McCombs, 2018

6Augustine, et al, 2016; McCombs, Augustine, Pane, & Schweig, 2020 and Reopening

7Reopening and Kim JS, Quinn DM, 2013

8McEachin, Augustine, & McCombs, 2018

9Kim JS, Quinn DM, 2013


11Augustine, et al., 2016; McEachin, Augustine, & McCombs, 2018; NSLA, 2020


13Browne, 2019; McEachin, Augustine, & McCombs, 2018

14CCSSO, Virtual Summer School 2020

15Browne, 2019; NSLA, 2020

16McEachin, Augustine, & McCombs, 2018; NSLA, 2020

17Afterschool Alliance, 2021

18Getting Tutoring Right

19Browne, 2019 and Afterschool Alliance

20Re-pull footnotes from the strategy doc and Reopening

21CCSSO, pg. 5