How did a 2021 summer school program impact student achievement?
In summer 2021, a metro-Atlanta school district offered a voluntary summer school program that provided opportunities for credit recovery and acceleration to address the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on student achievement growth. Students who met any one of a set of eligibility criteria were invited to participate, but others could opt in to the program—even if they were not specifically invited. We analyze the impact of inviting students to participate in this program on student achievement and provide descriptive evidence on which students chose to participate in the program.
In this report, Sarah S. Barry and Tim R. Sass used administrative records from the 2020–21 school year and the beginning of the 2021–22 school year for a school district in metro Atlanta. From these data, we know student formative assessment scores, student course grades, and demographic information. In addition, we used data regarding student eligibility for and attendance at the program. Our outcomes of interest were math and reading scores on the i-Ready formative assessment in the fall of the 2021–22 school year.
We find that receiving an invitation to attend summer school had no impact on student achievement growth in either math or reading. Among invitees, attendance was associated with a lessening of economic- and language-based achievement gaps. However, the observed correlation could be due to unobserved differences between attendees and non-attendees and does not necessarily imply that summer school attendance caused a reduction in achievement gaps. The lack of impact on achievement is likely due to the low participation rate: Overall, only 18% of students who were invited to participate in the program attended. Participation rates were higher for students from families experiencing low income (22%) and for English learners (28%).
Our findings have several policy implications. Given the low participation rate, districts should consider mechanisms to promote attendance in summer programs, such as requiring students to attend with an “opt out” provision rather than having to “opt in.” School leaders may also want to consider additional strategies for accelerating learning growth, such as after-school programs and high-intensity tutoring.
To read more, please download the policy brief and the report and its appendix below.