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Reducing Summer Reading Loss in Literacy
March 2017


What are the research-based best practices for reducing summer reading loss, particularly for students who participate in free summer meal programs? How many books should a child read over the summer to prevent reading loss?

Ask A REL Response

Thank you for your request to our Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Reference Desk. Ask A REL is a collaborative reference desk service provided by the 10 RELs that, by design, functions much in the same way as a technical reference library. Ask A REL provides references, referrals, and brief responses in the form of citations in response to questions about available education research.

Following an established REL Northwest research protocol, we conducted a search for evidence- based research. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, Google Scholar, and general Internet search engines. For more details, please see the methods section at the end of this document.

The research team has not evaluated the quality of the references and resources provided in this response; we offer them only for your reference. The search included the most commonly used research databases and search engines to produce the references presented here. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The research references are not necessarily comprehensive and other relevant research references may exist. In addition to evidence-based, peer-reviewed research references, we have also included other resources that you may find useful. We provide only publicly available resources, unless there is a lack of such resources or an article is considered seminal in the topic area.


Augustine, C. H., McCombs, J. S., Pane, J. F., Schwartz, H. L., Schweig, J., McEachin, A., & Siler-Evans, K. (2016). Learning from summer: Effects of voluntary summer learning programs on low-income urban youth. Santa Monica, CA: RAND. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"The National Summer Learning Project, launched by the Wallace Foundation in 2011, includes an assessment of the effectiveness of voluntary, district-led summer learning programs offered at no cost to low-income, urban elementary students. The study, conducted by RAND, uses a randomized controlled trial and other analytic methods to assess the effects of district-led programs on academic achievement, social-emotional competencies, and behavior over the near and long term. All students in the study were in the third grade as of spring 2013 and enrolled in a public school in one of five urban districts: Boston; Dallas; Duval County, Florida; Pittsburgh; or Rochester, New York. The study follows these students from third to seventh grade; this report describes outcomes through fifth grade. The primary focus is on academic outcomes but students' social-emotional outcomes are also examined, as well as behavior and attendance during the school year. Among the key findings are that students with high attendance in one summer benefited in mathematics and that these benefits persisted through the following spring; students with high attendance in the second summer benefited in mathematics and language arts and in terms of social-emotional outcomes; and that high levels of academic time on task led to benefits that persisted in both mathematics and language arts."

Blazer, C. (2011). Summer learning loss: Why its effect is strongest among low-income students. (Information Capsule Vol. 1011). Miami, FL: Miami-Dade County Public Schools, Research Services.

From the Abstract:
"Summer vacation is one of the predominant causes of the achievement gap in America's schools. While middle- and higher-income children spend their summers engaged in activities and enrolled in programs that strengthen and reinforce learning, the vast majority of children in low-income communities have little or no access to such opportunities. By the time school begins each year, low-income children's lack of access to enriching summer activities results in their falling weeks, if not months, behind their more advantaged peers. This Information Capsule summarizes research indicating that low-income students experience greater learning loss over the summer months than their higher-income peers because they are less likely to participate in summer enrichment activities. This report also reviews the characteristics of effective summer learning programs and provides a brief summary of research suggesting that participation in these programs helps students maintain or even increase their academic skills over the summer months, especially in reading. Finally, research conducted on summer book reading programs is discussed. Studies suggest that providing books to low-income children and encouraging them to read is a cost-effective and replicable approach that can help to develop their reading skills over the summer."

Katzir, T., Goldberg, A., Aryeh, T. B., Donnelley, K., & Wolf, M. (2013). Intensity vs. duration: Comparing the effects of a fluency-based reading intervention program, in after-school vs. summer school settings. Journal of Education and Training Studies, 1(2), 61–73.

From the Abstract:
"Two versions of RAVE-O, a fluency-based reading intervention were examined over a 2-intervention period: a 9-month, 44-hour after school intervention program, and a month long, 44-hour summer intervention program. 80 children in grades 1-3 were tested on the two subtests of the Test of Word-Reading Efficiency and were assigned to one of 6 groups compromising of different combinations of one vs. two intervention packets. Results show that while both programs showed gains after a single intervention, a significant difference was seen between intervention groups, with the afterschool intervention showing larger pre-post intervention difference scores. All groups who received a 2-package intervention either increased or maintained performance after the second intervention, suggesting that an additional intervention is beneficial. Moreover, the afterschool group who received a consecutive summer intervention group showed significant gains as compared to the other 2-intervention groups. Results from this study indicate the overall number of intervention hours may not be the indicator of a successful intervention. Instead, in the first intervention, a longer period of skill introduction may be needed for information consolidation; the second intervention may require an intense period for skill rehearsal. Implications for future reading interventions and scaling-up are discussed."

Kim, J. S., & Quinn, D. M. (2013). The effects of summer reading on low income children's literacy achievement from kindergarten to grade 8: An anlysis of classroom and home interventions. Review of Educational Research, 83(3), 386–431. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"This meta-analysis reviewed research on summer reading interventions conducted in the United States and Canada from 1998 to 2011. The synthesis included 41 classroom-and home-based summer reading interventions involving children from kindergarten to Grade 8. Compared to control group children, children who participated in classroom interventions, involving teacher-directed literacy lessons, or home interventions, involving child-initiated book reading activities, enjoyed significant improvement on multiple reading outcomes. The magnitude of the treatment effect was positive for summer reading interventions that employed research-based reading instruction and included a majority of low-income children. Sensitivity analyses based on within-study comparisons indicated that summer reading interventions had significantly larger benefits for children from low-income backgrounds than for children from a mix of income backgrounds. The findings highlight the potentially positive impact of classroom-and home-based summer reading interventions on the reading comprehension ability of low-income children."

Kim J. S., & White T.G. (2011). Solving the problem of summer reading loss. Phi Delta Kappan 92(7), 64–67. Retrieved from

From the ERIC Abstract:
"A 2008 experiment suggests that a summer books program, when combined with teacher scaffolding lessons and parent support, can significantly improve the reading achievement of low-income children. However, just giving student books to read did not improve achievement. By having teachers provide end-of-year lessons in reading comprehension and fluency and by encouraging parents to support their children's summer reading, schools can build effective and cost-efficient summer reading programs."
Lindley, S., Giles, R. M., & Tunks, K. (2016). Summer reading lists: Research and recommendations. Texas Journal of Literacy Education, 4(1), 37–45.
From the Abstract:
"Decades of research have focused on the impact of summer learning loss and effective tools in stemming the flow of knowledge lost during summer break. While reading lists have become a standard practice for addressing students' needs to maintain learning levels over the summer months, very little research has been conducted on the book lists themselves. This study examined the books chosen for the summer reading lists for rising eighth graders in a single district. Several variables, including reading level, word count, interest level, author gender, category, and publication date were investigated. The findings suggest that the reading lists are quite varied, possibly as a result of each school's purpose or area of focus when compiling their individual lists. Recommendations for creating quality book lists for any grade level are provided."

McGill-Franzen, A., Ward, N., & Cahill, M. (2016). Summers: Some are reading, some are not! It matters. Reading Teacher, 69(6), 585–596. Retrieved from

From the Executive Summary:
:"Does summer reading really work? Can simply giving books to children actually help close the achievement gap? The authors tell us what we know and what we are still learning about summer reading."

National Summer Learning Association. (n.d.). How to make summer reading effective [Research in brief]. Retrieved from

From the Executive Summary:
:"Summer’s always been a great time to kick back with a book. But a strong body of research shows that, without practice, students lose reading skills over the summer months and children from low-income families lose the most. With the prevalence of television, computers and other electronic distractions, how can parents, educators and librarians encourage kids to immerse their minds and imaginations in books over the summer months? … James Kim, assistant professor of education at Harvard University, looked at different approaches to summer reading and found that voluntary summer reading programs can work—but they work best when adults and teachers get involved by helping students to choose appropriate books and employ simple techniques to improve skill and understanding."

Rafferty, E., Jaspera, C., Mackin, J., & Redfield, M. (2015). Summer reading white paper (Rev. ed.). Retrieved Collaborative Summer Learning Program website:

From the Executive Summary:
:"Summer reading has long been a topic of interest among educators, librarians, and researchers. Summer reading programs, whether organized by schools or by public libraries, can be found in almost every town across the country. The underlying assumptions about summer reading programs are twofold: 1) Summer is an interruption in school-based learning that has a negative impact on the retention and development of children’s reading skills and 2) Summer reading programs help to make-up for this "break" in learning and result in positive reading achievement outcomes when children go back to school in the fall. But what is really known about the effectiveness of summer reading programs? Is there valid and reliable evidence that summer reading programs result in positive outcomes for children? To answer this question, the Collaborative Summer Learning Program partnered with NPC Research to review the existing literature on summer reading and to critically examine the evidence base related to the need for, and the effectiveness of, summer reading programs."

Smith, K. G., & Foorman, B. R. (2015). Summer reading camp self-study guide (REL 2015-070). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast.

From the Abstract:
"This Summer Reading Camp Self-Study Guide was developed to help state-, district-, and school-based practitioners and stakeholders conduct self-studies of planning and implementation of state-required summer reading camp programs for grade 3 students who scored at the lowest level on the state reading assessment. In some states these students face potential retention in grade 3 if they cannot meet grade-level standards for reading through a good-cause exemption, applicable alternate assessment score, or portfolio of student work showing mastery of grade-level reading standards. This guide provides a template for data collection and guiding questions for discussion that may improve instruction and increase the number of students meeting the grade-level standard by the end of the summer reading camp."


Keywords and Search Strings: The following keywords, subject headings, and search strings were used to search reference databases and other sources: Summer reading, Summer slide, Summer slump, Research

Databases and Resources: We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and EBSCO databases (Academic Search Premier, Education Research Complete, and Professional Development Collection).

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

Date of publications: This search and review included references and resources published in the last 10 years.

Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority was given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, as well as academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, and Google Scholar.

Methodology: The following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references:

  • Study types: randomized control trials, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, and policy briefs, generally in this order
  • Target population and samples: representativeness of the target population, sample size, and whether participants volunteered or were randomly selected
  • Study duration
  • Limitations and generalizability of the findings and conclusions

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by stakeholders in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington, which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Northwest. It was prepared under Contract ED-IES-17-C-0009 by REL Northwest, administered by Education Northwest. The content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.