By Natalie Aldridge
As schools across the state search for programs that will boost academic performance, two professors have identified a strategy to help struggling students.
Lars Lefgren, BYU assistant professor of economics, and Brian Jacob, assistant professor of public policy at Harvard University, discovered substantial increases in performance among students – particularly third grade students – who attended summer school. They studied an accountability program in Chicago Public Schools that requires students who do poorly on standardized tests to attend summer school.
While there has been much prior research on remedial programs, this study, which was released in this week”s issue of the Review of Economics and Statistics, is the first to provide convincing evidence on the benefits of summer school, Lefgren said.
“One of the depressing things about education is that you find out that so many programs don”t work or don”t work the way you expected them to,” Lefgren said. “Its actually encouraging to see, at least for the third grade kids, that two years later summer school is doing good things.”
Lefgren and Jacob followed students who scored barely above the cutoff for remedial programs on a standardized test and those who scored just below and were required to attend summer school. After two years, their analysis showed third grade students who attended summer school had an advantage equal to one month worth of schooling over their peers who did not participate in the program. For sixth grade students, the advantage was half as much.
“For these young kids, the Chicago program actually worked pretty well relative to other educational interventions,” Lefgren said. “I think these types of programs are likely to be effective for young, struggling kids.”
Local educators agree with Lefgren that summer school works.
Kristin Wilson, instructional facilitator at Joaquin Elementary School, said summer school boosts student achievement.
“We”ve seen students move from performing below grade level to performing on grade level and above,” Wilson said.
She said the study was reassuring because it reaffirmed summer school can make a dramatic impact on younger students.
While the Chicago schools require struggling students to attend summer school, participation in local remedial programs is optional. Educators may recommend the program for low-performing students but the final decision is up to parents.
Not all schools in the state offer summer school programs. Schools in the Provo School District individually decide whether or not to operate remedial programs, said Donna Nelson, school district representative.