The Impact of Summer Break on Student Achievement

Jan 11, 2017 2:22:48 PM Emily Jensen

The role of schools in both equalizing gaps between students, and reproducing existing disparities between students, is an important consideration in understanding the academic growth of students. In examining learning outcomes, time spent on learning in schools and the student’s home and neighborhood environment become an important consideration in examining how and if schools exacerbate inequalities. An important component of this debate should examine the impact of seasonal breaks on learning outcomes among students from different socioeconomic backgrounds. Specifically, it is imperative to examine how summer break impacts student learning among students from different socioeconomic non-school environments, and to what extent school equalizes these disparities.

 These differences have been explained through theories such as the faucet theory, which argues that when school is in session the resource faucet is turned on for all students and when school is not in session, the faucet is turned off, leaving students from an economically advantaged background with more resources. Quinn, Cooc, McIntyre and Gomez (2016) examined this theory in a study of 18,000 kindergarten students and found that the learning gaps between the school year and summer break are equalized during the school year. They also found that disparity in learning outcomes is higher in math than in reading during the summer.

Downey, Hippel and Broh (2004) also examined the seasonal impact among kindergarteners and found similar results indicating that schools do reduce inequality among students from different socioeconomic backgrounds.  However, Downey et al. (2004) also found that schools reduce inequality in ways that cannot be identified by common characteristics (parent education level etc.) during the school year, and that gaps in cognitive skills grow faster while school was in session among students from different backgrounds.

These findings can help educators understand why certain demographics are performing better in specific subjects. The findings of Quinn et al. (2016) show that seasonal learning inequalities are higher in math than in reading, which may explain why students from higher socioeconomic backgrounds perform better in STEM and go into STEM fields. These findings are important when creating strategies to decrease the impact of socioeconomic background on student achievement. For example, this can include extended school years, extra school days or summer courses that have the potential to equalize student learning.