School’s Out for Summer – Now What?


In a few more days, millions of students start summer vacation. No classes, no homework no projects and for many not much learning.

Parents often worry that students will forget some of the skills they learned this year. They have every right to be concerned. Here’s why.

The Concept:

Test How Much Kids Forget During Summer

A number of years ago a colleague and I were working for a local public school district. We were interested in how much forgetting might happen with students over the summer. Near the end of the school year, we asked a class of fourth grade students to do a timed oral reading from their reading program. I am recalling these data from memory, so these are not hard and fast numbers, more an indicator than hard data.

What We Found

The results ranged from more than 200 words per minute to fewer than 60 words per minute. In September during the first week of school, we tracked these students down and had them read the same story aloud to us again. The results were not encouraging. Even the top students read fewer words than they had in June, down from around 200 to 175-180. Students who were reading around the 150 mark slipped to100 words per minute. Students below 100 words per minute dropped to approximately 60 words per minute. Those students who were reading at 60 words per minute dropped to around 40 words per minute.

What Surprised Us

Now that we could get some measure of the loss of skill, we decided to see how long it took the various groups of students to regain their lost skills.

  • The top students were back to 200 per minute within a week.
  • The students who were at 175-180 took a couple of days more than a week.
  • The children in the 100 words per minute group required 2 full weeks to get back to 100 words per minute.
  • Those students who had been reading at 60 words per minute in June required three weeks of September to regain their rate of 60 words per minute.

I suspect that the same or a similar decrease could be found for a large group of skills such as math facts, naming geographical concepts, remembering formulas, etc. So parents and teachers have a valid reason to be concerned about the lack of skill practice that is likely to occur over an extended holiday. It also explains why many schools use the first month of school as a review.

Mostly it also indicates the benefit of being at fluent levels of performance in various areas of skills. The student who were fluent or close to fluent in reading stories lost less ground and recovered more quickly than students who were not fluent.

A Suggestion

If there is a skill that you fear your student might lose, arrange to check it out for a minute once every week during the summer. If the data shows that it is sliding, either with fewer corrects or more errors, you can have the student do sufficient practice to get it back to its original state. The process does not need to take an inordinate amount of time and will give you the satisfaction of knowing that your student is not forgetting skills that will be needed in the fall.

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