To successfully engage in today’s global market, students need advanced literacy skills (Snow, Burns, and Griffin 1998). A lack of proficiency in reading is more widely found in children from economically disadvantaged families (Alexander, Entwisle, and Olson 2007; Lee, Grigg, and Donahue 2007); in fact, by grade 4, only 46 percent of students from economically disadvantaged families achieve reading proficiency above the basic level (Perie, Grigg, & Donahue, 2005).
One reason that these students tend to have lower reading proficiency is that they experience a decline in reading comprehension over the summer months, known as summer reading loss (Cooper et al. 1996; David 1979). This disproportionate reading loss for economically disadvantaged students may, in part, be explained by the limited access to books and literacy-related activities in the home environment that many of these students experience.
A large-scale, multidistrict randomized control trial has examined the effectiveness of a summer reading initiative for economically disadvantaged grade 3 students who scored below the 50th percentile nationally in reading. The program was designed to reduce summer reading loss, a well-documented decline in reading skills that occurs when students are not in school over the summer.
Students in the summer reading program received eight books in the summer before their grade 4 school year. Students and books were matched using the Lexile Framework® for Reading, and students were sent follow-up postcards during the summer to encourage reading. At the start of the next school year, students were tested to determine if the program had an impact on their reading levels.
The study found a statistically significant effect of the summer reading program on the number of books students reported reading over the summer. On average, students in the treatment group reported reading 1.03 more books over the summer than did students in the control group. However, the summer reading program did not have a statistically significant impact on student reading comprehension.