The achievement gap in the United States is the persistent disparity between the academic performance of under-resourced communities and their better-resourced peers. This gap is perpetuated by the summer slide, or the regression of students’ academic progress due to lack of practice and learning during summer months. Researchers have found that two-thirds of the achievement gap among high school students can be traced back to the effects of the summer slide from the students’ elementary school career. Because school-aged children spend 75% of their waking hours outside of the classroom, there is plenty of opportunity to begin to close this gap through a more purposeful use of this time.
Source: Springboard Collaborative
I had the privilege to serve as one of Springboard Collaborative’s program managers this summer, overseeing the implementation of their exceptionally effective literacy program across several schools in New York City. As I explained earlier, there is an amazing opportunity to leverage students’ non-classroom time to help combat the further perpetuation of our nation’s achievement gap. While summer school provides a ripe opportunity for students to engage in necessary academic work beyond the traditional 10-month school year, these programs don’t typically lead to significant growth or sustained impact. Seeking to improve upon this, Springboard offers a comprehensive summer program that not only provides academic opportunity to students but also trains the school staff in transformative classroom practice while readying family members to be at-home reading coaches for their children. By addressing the needs of students, their teachers, and their families in one program, a community of learning and engagement is created unlike any I have seen in my career in education.
Before summer program started, I helped provided professional development opportunities to each school’s staff on literacy instruction, assessment practice, and data-driven planning. While teachers are no strangers to professional development, the training provided by Springboard was tailor-made for each school, rooted in research-proven methods, and was rigorous in design. As a former teacher, I wished I had had Springboard in my school, as these pre-summer trainings truly provided the staff with concrete practices they could leverage to be as effective as possible in the summer and for the rest of their teaching careers.
Springboard’s model limits class sizes to 15 students per room, allowing teachers to really focus their energy on the individual needs of their students. While it is often overwhelming and seemingly impossible to incorporate new learnings into an overflowing classroom of 30+ students, the small class sizes allowed the teachers to try out these new strategies in a much easier environment. Additionally, teachers were provided ongoing professional development through weekly meetings, classroom visits, and coaching conversations. I was humbled by the teachers’ willingness to improve their practice, try new techniques, and receive and incorporate feedback.
Because of the summer slide, students from high and middle-income homes tend to continue their reading growth during summer months, whereas lower-income students often see their scores decrease by the time they return to school in September. To remedy this, it is important that the summer be used productively for lower-income students. Springboard wants to do one better than just provide a productive program that puts students on pace with their peers. Instead, they seek to outpace students from middle and high income families, making a much more substantial dent in the achievement gap in one short summer.
To accomplish this herculean task, teachers develop individualized student action plans, giving clarity of purpose to the work students are performing both in and out of the classroom. To sweeten the deal, Springboard also provides incentives to students should they reach or exceed their summer goal. If students meet their growth goal, they receive a backpack filled with school supplies and books. Should they exceed their reading goal, they also receive a tablet pre-loaded with reading software. Back when I was a teacher, I saw amazing focus and determination when I incentivized my students with 15 minutes of extra recess. I can’t begin to describe the laser-focus I saw from students when they learned they could receive a tablet!
What Springboard has really fine-tuned is the way it engages families to become partners in the learning process of their students. Before the program began, teachers made home visits, which allowed teachers to meet their students, their families, and begin to build the bridge between home and school. It is often easy for school staffers to overlook how intimidating it may be to enter a school – even for an adult. The home visits sent a clear signal to the families that the teachers cared deeply about them, as they were willing to literally go the extra mile to create that personal connection.
Each week, families were welcomed into the school and their child’s classroom for a workshop on reading strategies they can use to help their children at home. Families sat with their children as teachers taught them strategies for choosing a “just right” book, asking questions while reading, and what to do when you get stumped by a difficult word. These strategies can be used at all levels during a student’s school career, so building the capacity of families to help in this way will have lasting effects on these students. But what I found most amazing was the sense of community fostered during these workshops. Each week, families would share what worked well and what was difficult about implementing the previous week’s reading tip. For the family, the classroom was transformed from an intimidating place where they sat for parent-teacher conferences to a place to connect with their neighbors and engage in learning with their children.
My summer working with Springboard Collaborative was incredible. It allowed me to utilize what I had learned in my management classes to help lead the program to its successful outcome: During our 5-week program, students in New York City had made an average of 3 months of reading growth! Compared to what would have happened with the summer slide – losing 2 months of growth – the net result is a 5-month improvement, the equivalent of half a year of progress. For these students, that result will be transformational, as they will be much better prepared to enter their next grade. Moreover, teachers will be more effective in their literacy instruction and students’ families will be able to continue to serve as at-home reading coaches, extending the impact of the program long past the summer.