Why worry about summer learning loss? Understanding the summer slide & COVID slide.

For more, check out our full Coronavirus Resource Library at this link.

Most parents and students have heard of the summer slide: students can struggle to retain skills and knowledge over summer break, resulting in up to two months of learning loss by the start of school in the fall. The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to make that slide even worse. This year, students face the additional challenge of extended school closures heading into the summer months.

How serious is the summer slide?

The summer slide is not a new phenomenon. For over 100 years, educators have been observing and raising concerns about summer learning loss. Students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of the summer than they do on the same tests at the start of the summer.

In fact, over summer break, students' academic gains—particularly in math—can decline by up to two months. As a result, ninety percent of teachers start the school year by spending at least three weeks reteaching content from the previous year. These learning losses are greater for lower-income students than for their higher-income peers.

What is the COVID slide, and why worry?

Recently, we’ve seen concerning predictions about “COVID slide” learning losses. Despite teachers’, parents’, and students’ best efforts, many students were less engaged in their academics when learning remotely than they were when they attended school in person—and summer break may exacerbate students’ learning gaps. Here are some of the facts:

  • In May, the Education Week Research Center surveyed teachers about student engagement: 60% of teachers described a decline in student engagement across the previous two weeks, including 22% saying student engagement had decreased “a lot.”
  • Teachers also reported that 23% of their students were “essentially truant” (MIA, not logging in, not making contact).
  • A recent NWEA report estimated that students will return to school in fall 2020 having retained less than 70% of the learning gains they’d make in reading during a typical school year.
  • The same report estimated that students will retain only 37-50% of their typical learning gains in math.


What does this mean for SAT/ACT students?

Learning losses in reading and math may pose significant challenges for students sitting for the SAT and ACT in the summer/fall after extended academic breaks. These students—facing limited opportunities to retake exams—will have their scores compared to those of students who earned strong results earlier in the year, before test centers closed.

So is there anything students can do to slow these learning losses? The answer is yes. If students treat the summer months as an opportunity to continue learning, rather than as an extended vacation, the COVID slide can be slowed. The key is for students to keep reinforcing their math and verbal skills by engaging in regular review.

For more specific information about what you can do to catch up on spring content and get ahead on fall lessons, check out the next part of our summer learning loss series here.

Need more individualized advice?

The recommendations above are general suggestions. If you have specific questions, reach out to our experts here. We’re happy to help in any way we can.


About ArborBridge

ArborBridge is the global leader in innovative, digital, one-on-one tutoring. With nearly a decade of experience teaching students online, ArborBridge supports students of all kinds: home schoolers, AP students, test preppers, and more. Our tutors specialize in creating personalized plans and in providing compassionate support for students and families.

Erin Ohsie-Frauenhofer

About Erin Ohsie-Frauenhofer

As one of the highest-performing tutors in ArborBridge’s history, Erin coaches tutors and develops tools and trainings to disrupt old habits and empower new strengths. With a Master of Arts in Teaching from Brown University, Erin worked as a classroom teacher and student services director prior to joining ArborBridge in 2017. Her decade of success as an educator has prepared her to ensure that programs are tailored to individual students’ needs.

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