Section 1 The Problem

The purpose of this research is to investigate the impact of summer homework in reducing learning loss among students in 4th, 5th, and 6th grade. The study will be conducted at the middle school located in Hackensack, New Jersey. By investigating the effects of summer homework in reducing learning loss, the information which will be gathered through this research will be beneficial in making parents become more aware. In doing so, parents can help the school and the community in encouraging learning retention among the students.
During summer, students are engaged in non-academic activities which often diminish their learning capacities. Sun (2011) also noted that majority of learners had more difficulty in integrating classroom concepts in the early days after their return from vacation, and that this condition improved gradually with time. His studies suggested that 75% of students had difficulty in integrating science concepts during this time and that they performed extremely well in non-science disciplines.
Definition of the Problem
The main objective of this study is to establish the negative impacts of summer vacation on children`s learning and to offer solutions to avoid learning loss during summer. Earlier research supported the findings that students fail to complete homework packets during summer vacations due to lack of support from parents (Eunice, 2009). Thus, the goal of this study is to determine parent`s roles in promoting learning to their children during summer.
The existence of summer homework and summer programs predates even the summer learning loss earliest studies. Since the 19[th] century, teachers offered summer school programs to students who lagged behind in class, as well as those with a poor English proficiency (Furman & Bordoff, 2007). Summer learning loss is the loss in academic knowledge and skills by school students over the summer vacation. The loss in learning is different across subject matter, grade level and family income. The learning loss is as a result of the long summer vacation whereby students tend to forget the skills and knowledge, as a result of not engaging in education curricula.
Evidence of the Problem from the Professional Literature
School years are often considered periods of oppression while summer times are associated with liberty (Drehle, 2010). School is all about work while summer is all about play and fun. However, Drehle acknowledges that summer vacation brings a problem (2010). In a century year old study conducted by Harris Cooper, it has been shown that on average, students are losing a month of growth in math every summer while students from low income families are likely to slip in reading comprehension compared to students from middle-income family (Ready, 2010). Recent studies have quantified summer loss of student test scores at about one month (Hattie & Anderman, 2013). Math and spelling have indicated the highest effects as compared to other subjects, with an exemption of students from low socio-economic status who also indicated declines in reading (Allington, 2010). In addition, the researcher identified that the negative effects of summer vacation are more significant for children with exceptional needs (especially the children who speak other language apart from English during the vacation) than the general population. A survey from 500 teachers concluded that, 66% teachers spent 3 to 4 weeks re-teaching the course materials at the start of the year, while 24% teachers spent 5 to 6 weeks re teaching materials from the past school year (Klein, 2014).
Evidence of the Problem at the Local Level
Evidence shows that math and spelling are two of the subjects that are greatly affected by summer learning loss (Allington, 2010). Extra-curricular activities are believed to help students develop holistically. However, this has shown to affect the academic performance of the students. Students, teachers and parents at the local level have attempted to solve the problem through summer learning programs, but have not been effective (Meece & Eccles, 2010). With this in mind, the setting of the standard school calendar (ten month calendar) gives students an extended summer vacation of approximately two months. Various researchers have studied the impacts of the long summer vacation on the academic performance among the school children. Klein (2014) suggested that the summer vacation frustrates the learning process by breaking the rhythm of instruction.
Guiding/Research Question
The larger body of research available at the moment confirms that the long summer vacation results in learning loss among the students especially those in elementary and middle schools. In conducting this research, the following question will serve as a guide: What are the impacts of summer homework in reducing learning loss?
Significance of the Study
With appropriate knowledge concerning the negative impacts of the extended summer break on learning and the effectiveness of summer homework packets in reducing the summer learning loss, it will be easier to identify practical solutions.
Review of the Literature
Multiple studies have shown that summer vacation results in differential rates of learning loss (Arum & Velez, 2012). Researchers distinguish learning programs as the potentially effective measures to reduce summer learning loss. However, only few studies identified the impacts of summer packets and summer programs in reducing the loss of academic skills during summer break.
According to Biancarosa et al (2010), growth during academic years, from fall to spring, is greatly steeper compared to growth during summertime or the period from spring to fall. Further, percentage of summer learning varied from one grade level to another (Bourman and Boulay, 2012 Biancarosa, Bryk, and Dexter, 2010). During the summer vacation students rarely engage themselves in academic tasks and this makes them forget concepts and ideas they learned in the previous academic year, however, this necessitates the use of the first few weeks of the fall in remedial programs to acquaint the students with the school environment and remind them about the concepts learned in the previous year before introducing new concepts (Crowe, Hyun, and Kretovics, 2012).
The learning loss experienced during summer vacation accumulates to significant learning gap. Allington and Mcgill-Franzen et al (2010) suggested that summer programs, especially the summer reading clubs are effective tools for reducing the learning gap among the school children irrespective of their age, socioeconomic, and gender differences. Researchers identified that these programs either improves or retains the reading levels during the summer break. However, the effectiveness of summer learning programs depends on components of the program, attitude of the students, and support from the parent and instructors (Mccombs, 2011). Apart from improving academic achievement, summer programs have other benefits, which include improvement of behavioral and socio-emotional outcomes, persistent to school, and improved school year attendance (McCombs, 2011).
One of the things that have been introduced in order to diminish the existence of summer learning loss is the regularity in the attendance in high-quality afterschool as well as summer programs. After school programs have been recognized to have beneficial impacts on the children`s learning retention (Zvoch and Stevens, 2011). In a research conducted by Mclaughlin and Pitcock (2009), children who are engaged in afterschool programs are given a broad range of enrichment opportunities. Further, they are taught how to build healthy relationship with their peers. Children are also provided with opportunities for mastery as well as skill-building (Mclaughlin and Pitcock, 2009). If a skill is not put to practice, the probability of losing it is quite high.
The importance of giving summer homework is to ensure that students continue to get the required instructions within the education sector. As stated by Bradley & Waltz (2010), summer homework has helped reduce learning loss significantly. Since 1981, learning losses as a result of summer vacation were reduced by about 51 percent (Bradley & Waltz, 2010).
Current study
Annually, students in the United States attend school for approximately 180 days. Studies indicate that during this period a remarkable progress along the course of learning and growth in terms of skills and knowledge is achieved (Smith, 2012).
Most recent studies have given contradicting results on the impact of summer homework in reducing learning loss. For example, some studies have indicated varying rates of the academic achievements at the end of summer due to summer homework (Dantis and Slattery, 2011). The argument here was that summer homework contributed positively in basic mathematics and science subjects. Nevertheless, the impact of summer homework varies across factors including academic levels and socioeconomic status (Cox-Petersen, 2011). Instead, additional studies agree that summer homework has a positive impact on learning loss reduction. In a study conducted by Smith (2012), there is a consistent link between summer homework and improved academic achievements during fall, regardless of the family income or English proficiency. This study not only reflected reduction in learning loss, but it also heightened the student`s academic skills and knowledge as they prepare for a new academic year.
Studies have shown that students lose the skills they do not practice during the summer vacations. Some key players in the education sector feel that summer homework assignments are effective interventions to curb the slide (Fiester, 2010). According to Fiester (2010), the essence of assigning reading to students during the summer break is to ensure continuous delivery of instructions. This is because summer homework assignments ensure progressive learning between spring and fall, thus reducing the chances for students to forget reading and computation skills learned in the previous year. Although there is no sufficient research to prove the effectiveness of summer homework in reducing summer slide, the trend has skyrocketed by 51% since 1981 (Smith, 2012). This has resulted from the belief that summer packets can reduce the loss of learning abilities that occur during the vacation (Smith, 2012). In spite of this, very few studies have established a positive correlation between summer homework and test scores. This has raised the ongoing debate among the key concerned parties as to whether summer homework has any academic value on students.
The main controversy about the effect of summer homework assignments is its contribution in improving academic achievement. Different researchers suggested varying rates (between 8-31 %) of academic improvements during the fall as a result of summer homework (Van Voorhis, 2011). The researcher identified that summer homework assignments resulted in significant improvements, in elementary math and other middle school science subjects. Still, the impact of summer homework assignments varies with several factors such as socioeconomic and academic level. However, a research by Loertscher and Marcoux (2012) contradicted these findings by indicating a consistent association between summer reading assignments and improvement in reading proficiency regardless the social background. The study established a positive link between the volumes of assigned summer readings and improvement in elementary grades. This implies that a greater involvement in academic tasks during the summer break not only reduces the summer slide, but it also increases academic skills in preparation for the upcoming school year.
Reading is one of the many activities that are strongly encouraged during summer (Allington and Mcgill-Franzen et al, 2010). According to Allington (2010), researchers have reported the impact of summer reading setback. More than two decades ago, Hayes and Grether conducted a study to 600 New York City elementary schools in which they compared the cumulative reading development of students in high- as well as low-poverty schools over time. Their analyses of the achievement gains generated at the end of the academic year showed improvement among the students (Allington, 2010). On the other hand, in 2010, Beckett conducted an evaluation of the 21[st] Century Community Learning Centers and found that one of its characteristics is that it is more of an after-school funding stream rather than a specific after-school program model (Inman et al, 2013). Further, it was discovered the negative effects that go along with the 21[st] CCLC program such that during the second year, a greater number of participants were suspended and were disciplined in school due to behavioral problems (Inman et al, 2013). However, in Beckett`s research, several reasons were cited which relate to the students` suspension in classes such as tiredness due to overspending of time in school as well as poorly designed programs (Inman et al, 2013). The most common intervention summer learning loss generally encompasses conventional summer school programs which focus immensely on the remediation of reading difficulties as well as the reinforcement of skills in reading comprehension by way of a highly prescriptive curricula and an incorporation of skills books and tests (Kim and White, 2011). On the whole, remedial summer programs generate short-term achievement benefits that tend to diminish through time, and the benefits are larger for those individuals belonging in the middle class than those who are earning low-income (Kim and White, 2011).
In the past years, focus on summer learning programs for the disadvantaged kids and youth has grown immensely. Majority of this heightened attention may involve impulsion of the No Child Left Behind legislation and by researches on summer learning loss which discover that low-income youth lose ground more in reading skills over the summer than their higher income peers (Kim and Guryan, 2010). Some researchers oppose the summer homework on differing grounds. First, the intensive involvement of parents and other members of families in helping the middle grade students complete their summer homework. The level of parents` involvement varies with homework conditions. A study of Teacher Involve Parents in Schoolwork (TIPS) program indicated 88 % and 65 % involvement of family members in homework assignments for TIPS year 2 and TIPS year 1 respectively (Van Voorhis, 2011). The study also showed a higher rate of parents` involvement in elementary math assignments (by 25%) than language arts. According to Bennett & Kalish (2006) both parents and most teachers have no proven facts about the effects of homework assignments on students` performance. Most of these parents view homework assignments as a source of tension and stress. Parents argue that the homework robs children of their sleep and exercise time, which are necessary for physical, neurological, and emotional development (Bennett & Kalish, 2006). Nonetheless, Van Voorhis (2011) opposed this suggestion through a study, which indicated that variations in students and parents` attitudes toward homework and its effects on the student`s achievements relate to other factors other than time. This means that summer packets should be designed in a manner that takes care of academic and non-academic interests of children.
Summer learning loss is mostly evident in reading ability. Most students indicate slight loss in reading skills during the summer vacation. Students from low income families` experience an average loss in reading performances over the summer since they have a limited access to books at home (Ready, 2010). Over the summer vacation, students lose about 2.6 months score level equivalency in mathematics. Literature states that students experience greater summer loss in procedural or factual knowledge, irrespective of the socio-economic status they come from.
According to Allington & McGill-Franzen (2012) the learning loss among students over summer yields a performance gap in reading achievement amid the higher and lower income students. Further, he asserts that while student performance for students regardless of their socio-economic status improve at the same rate over the school calendar, the students from low-income families experience increasing learning losses in basic school grades (Allington & McGill-Franzen, 2012).
The period that students spend out of school could be problematic, especially if they are not closely monitored (Kwalwasser, 2012). Naturally, students like exploring and being idle may lead them to engage in activities, which are sometimes contrary to the expected norms (Hiebert & Reutzel, 2010). As such, these students will receive poor grades after getting back to school or end up dropping out of school. This is contrary to students who get an opportunity to engage in constructive activities such as summer homework and summer programs.
Several publications have been reviewed with regards to summer homework and summer learning loss (Roman and Fiore, 2010). The recent report includes text review on summer learning programs and learning loss, as well as the learning programs provided by private institutions in the United States. This study reveals that students who continue learning over summer gain more knowledge and skill over those who idle during summer, who lose the same amount of knowledge and skills. Scholars have suggested three approaches for reducing learning loss since summer homework receives controversial perceptions (McCombs et al. 2011). They include extended school year and a modified school calendar to shorten the long summer vacation.
In conclusion, while summer learning programs are in the right direction to reducing learning loss, they cannot entirely bridge the achievement gap (Ozier, 2010). A complete bridge necessitates a systematic approach that can be sustained over time to connect families, communities, school districts, as well as legislators concerned with the academic, economic needs and socio-emotional needs of families and children to bridge the achievement gap that has been rooted in the education sector for decades (McCombs et al. 2013).
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