Learning is an important part of summer

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The 2011-12 school year is over, and summer is here. It is a good time for Kentucky teachers and students to rest, relax and reenergize after a year that was filled with changes. From new standards to a new testing system and an increased focus on college and career readiness, our work was about transforming Kentucky education for the sake of our students and the future of our state. It was an exciting and, at times, stressful year.

Education Commissioner Terry Holliday
Education Commissioner Terry Holliday

A break is in order – but not for long.

While summer is synonymous with carefree fun, it should not be learning free. To succeed in school and life, children and adults need ongoing opportunities to learn and practice essential skills. This is especially true during the summer months.

Unfortunately, mounting research has documented summer slide, a cumulative loss of academic skills over the summer months. All students are prone to summer slide but there is evidence that it disproportionately affects low-income students, contributes to high dropout rates and a persistent academic achievement gap between richer and poorer students.

Research collected by the National Summer Learning Association highlights this:

  • All young people experience learning losses when they do not engage in educational activities during the summer. Students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning of the summer.
  • Most students lose about two months of grade level equivalency in mathematical computation skills over the summer months. Low-income students also lose more than two months in reading achievement.
  • More than half of the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income youth can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities. As a result, low-income youth are less likely to graduate from high school or enter college.

Kentucky students are not immune to the summer slide. That is why I and the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) are encouraging parents to keep students engaged in learning during the summer through the Kentucky Public Libraries’ Summer Reading Programs and other activities.

Students, however,  aren’t the only ones who should take advantage of summer learning opportunities. Summer also is a good time for teachers to evaluate the past year, and enhance their skills through professional development and conferences. KDE posts teacher training opportunities on its website, and Kentucky Teacher (www.kentuckyteacher.org), the department’s online professional development publication, posts opportunities in its Bulletin Board section every Thursday.

Such trainings and conferences allow teachers to expand their knowledge and learn new skills. Just as important is the opportunity for teachers to share with one another, discuss ideas and strategies as well as what works in their classrooms and what doesn’t. This type of collaboration is essential as we work together to better prepare Kentucky’s student to succeed in college and the workplace.

Summer vacation offers a great opportunity for students and teachers to strengthen their skills and delve deeper into subject areas that interest them — outside the pressures and structure of the regular school day. Please take advantage of it.

I wish all of you and your families a safe and enjoyable summer. I look forward to working with you once again in the 2012-13 school year as we move closer to our vision of every child in Kentucky proficient and prepared for success – college/career ready.

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