Summer programs keep kids on track
Study: Local initiatives improve, maintain district test scores
DANBURY — More than 80 percent of Danbury students who participated in summer learning programs either improved or at least maintained test scores between spring and fall, according to a new study of the scores.
The data, the first of its kind for the Danbury school district, illustrate how effective local programs are at reducing the so-called “summer slide,” in which children’s learning slumps during the summer break, officials said.
Many students lose two months of math skills in the summer and low-income children can lose even more time in reading skills, according to the nonprofit National Summer Learning Association.
The local study gives district officials the opportunity to fine tune the more than 40 programs offered during the summer to maximize the impact on student learning even between school years, said Anne Mead, the district’s director of family, school and community partnerships.
Many students lose two months of math skills in the summer.
“We know that the time when (students) end school in June and start again in September, we often see what we call summer learning slide,” she said. “We want to stop that ... We talked big ideas: What are students missing in foundational knowledge and what are the opportunities that these summer programs could give them?”
Last fall, Mead and district staff gathered almost all of those summer learning program coordinators to produce a directory of summer programs and develop a plan to study their programs’ effect on student test scores to prove their importance.
Thousands of students participated, so Mead’s staff decided to track the numbers of 411 children in three different programs, including one run by a community provider, instead of a school itself. All of the children participated in at least five weeks of programs that lasted all day, Mead said.
Of those students, the district compared their spring literacy and math scores to their fall scores in September.
The results showed that 55 percent of students increased their literacy scores and another 30 percent maintained them, within five points of their spring scores, Mead said. Math scores increased for 65 percent of those students and another 18 per-
cent maintained their scores.
Only 15 percent saw their literacy scores drop and 17 percent saw their math scores drop — the summer slide, she said.
The study gives the district a new baseline to determine the success of its summer programs going forward, so Mead’s team plans to expand its data collection next year.
“We’ll expand the number we look at next year,” she said. “We spent some time building some trust with programs and getting them to feel like they’re part of the community and seeing the value of their role in their programs to work with all of our children in Danbury.
“A lot of programs have really wonderful reputations in the community and families come back to them every year.”
The group of program providers also convened the first-ever Spring Resource Fair at the Danbury Sports Dome to highlight all of the available options for families.
More than 600 families attended, so the district plans to host one each year now to help connect parents with the right programs to support their students during the summer, Superintendent Sal Pascarella said.
“It was a yeoman effort to bring about the synergy and to bring it all under one roof; literally the dome allowed us to do that,” Pascarella said. “It’s needed and it needs to be reinforced.”