How did virtual summer school during the COVID-19 pandemic impact learning in elementary and middle school?
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, school districts in metro Atlanta closed physical schools and quickly shifted to remote instruction in mid-March 2020 for the remainder of the school year. Many efforts have been used to mitigate the effects of pandemic-induced school closures, including virtual summer school.
Prior to the pandemic, studies indicate that participation in summer programs tends to reduce learning loss in mathematics; however, in reading, the impact is mixed. Interventions have ranged from summer enrichment programs to online programs targeting students across all grade levels. In this report from Alexa Prettyman and Tim Sass, we seek to determine whether elementary and middle school students benefited from a virtual summer school program in a metro-Atlanta school district during the COVID-19 pandemic. We used spring assignment completion records, summer school files, and administrative records from the spring of school year 2019-20 to the fall of school year 2020-21 to compare achievement growth between summer school participants and non-participants.
Overall, virtual summer school participation was low. Only about 1 in 4 students who were supposed to participate actually did. We find that participants performed better in math, on average, than non-participants, but there was no difference in reading. Most of the gains are concentrated among elementary school students and not middle school students. In addition, students who were more engaged during the spring semester seemed to benefit more from summer school. Districts may want to mandate or incentivize participation in future programs offered in the summer or during breaks in the academic calendar. Lastly, use of clear and objective assignment rules and better documentation of who is expected to attend summer school will provide for causal analysis in the future.
To read more, please download the policy brief and report below.