Closing the Gap: Combating the Summer Slide at Classical Charter Schools

We explore the issue of the summer slide and its impact on the academic achievement gap, with a specific focus on the innovative strategies implemented by Classical Charter Schools.


The summer months are often associated with relaxation, family vacations, and a break from the rigors of the academic year. However, for many students, particularly those from low-income communities, summer also signifies a period of learning loss, a phenomenon widely known as the “summer slide.” This post delves into the intricacies of the summer slide, its impact on the academic achievement gap, and the innovative strategies employed by Classical Charter Schools to combat this issue.

The Summer Slide and the Achievement Gap

The summer slide refers to the regression in knowledge and skills that students experience during the summer break. Studies by Smith & Brewer (2010), McCombs et al. (2011), and Drehle (2010) have established that this phenomenon is particularly prevalent in low-income communities. The summer slide is not just a seasonal issue; it’s a significant obstacle in closing the academic achievement gap between higher-income suburban students and lower-income urban students.  In fact, research by Smith (2012) has concluded that two-thirds of the 9th-grade reading achievement gap can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities during elementary school.”Classical Charter Schools, committed to bridging this gap, has been closely tracking and researching the summer slide since 2009. Their focus has been on literacy skills, as reading ability is the most affected skill for low-income students (Smith & Brewer, 2010). Their efforts with data analysis and response have yielded impressive results, decreasing regression in reading from a loss of 15.5 weeks in 2009 to 5 weeks in 2018.

Measuring the Summer Slide

To measure the summer slide, Classical Charter Schools utilized the Fountas & Pinnell reading comprehension assessment. This tool helps assess students’ reading growth beyond the academic year, monitor the reliability of teacher scoring, evaluate the effectiveness of Classical’s Summer Learning Academy, and provide valuable information to staff and families. The data gathered also allows for a detailed analysis of the summer slide by gender, race, grade, and specific populations such as students receiving special services, English language learners, and students that have been previously retained.

Implementing Fountas & Pinnell Classroom

The Fountas & Pinnell Classroom is a comprehensive literacy instruction program that supports learning in various settings through a range of resources. The program is built upon six principles: Instructional Coherence, Responsive Teaching, Multi-text Approach, Student Inquiry, Language-based, and Teacher Expertise. Classical Charter Schools have implemented these principles across their network, ensuring a coherent and effective approach to literacy instruction.

Analyzing the Summer Slide

The analysis of the summer slide at Classical Charter Schools reveals interesting patterns. For instance, while small differences in summer slide between males and females were noted in 2009-2012, in more recent years, these differences are not statistically significant. Similarly, when looking at summer slide by ethnicity, there are not statistically significant differences between Black, Hispanic, and other ethnicities. The data also shows that the summer slide varies by grade and reading level. For example, 2nd grade experiences the most slide, likely due to the increased expectations and the cessation of explicit Phonics instruction at this level.

The Summer Learning Academy

One of the strategies employed by Classical Charter Schools to combat the summer slide is the Summer Learning Academy (SLA). This four-week program offers struggling students specialized instruction in both math and reading skills. Data shows that from 2016-2018, students who attended SLA experienced less of a slide than those who did not.

Identifying the Most Affected Groups 

To best support student learning, it’s crucial to identify and target the groups of scholars that slide the most. The data reveals that 2nd grade has consistently suffered the most significant loss in reading achievement. Furthermore, scholars who lost half of an academic year or more in reading in Summer 2018 were a mix of low, average, and high-performing scholars, indicating that the summer slide can affect a broad range of students.

Teacher Effect on Summer Slide

Teachers play a pivotal role in mitigating the summer slide. The data suggests that teacher experience and performance evaluation scores can significantly impact the summer slide. This finding underscores the importance of continuous professional development and training for teachers, particularly in literacy instruction.


The summer slide is a complex issue with far-reaching implications for the academic achievement gap. However, through rigorous tracking, innovative programs like the Summer Learning Academy, and a comprehensive approach to literacy instruction, schools like Classical Charter Schools are making significant strides in reducing the summer slide. 

While these findings are promising, it’s important to note that the study has its limitations and there is still much work to be done. Future research should consider scholars’ academic scores as evidence for the hypothesis of poor instruction. Moreover, more focus should be placed on reading in 2nd grade and English Language Learners, and parent resources should be audited for effectiveness. 

The summer slide is not an insurmountable challenge. With targeted interventions, dedicated teachers, and a commitment to literacy, we can ensure that our students continue to grow, even when school is out of session.



 This post was contributed by Ms. Maguire, the Manager of our Data & Research Team and Mr. Ganaganayagam (former Dean of Students, and current Brand Strategy Manager). As a non-CMO charter network, we rely on the thoughts, opinions, and innovations of our staff to move our mission forward and provide an excellent academic option to families in the South Bronx. To hear more from our staff, check out the next post! Or, click here to learn more.

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