Research, most notably the work of Johns Hopkins researcher Karl Alexander (2001), has identified summer vacation as the culprit in widening the achievement gap in reading between low-income children and their wealthier peers. Termed “summer slide,” low-income children lose, on average, three months of achievement between June and September. Not surprisingly, low-income families are less likely to have access to books or a culture to encourage reading: according to the 2011 NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress), 53 percent of fourth graders in Baltimore City have fewer than 26 books at home; one in five has fewer than 10.
Abell’s 2011-2014 SummerREADs book distribution programs were based on the successful voluntary summer reading programs implemented by researchers Dr. Richard Allington and Dr. James Kim. Those outcomes underscored the impact appropriately leveled and high-interest summer book distribution programs can have on maintaining, in a cost-effective manner, the reading levels of disadvantaged children, particularly if they reach students for multiple summers.
In 2015, SummerREADs served 2,200 kindergarten, and first-, second-, and third-grade students in nine City Schools with newly-renovated Weinberg school libraries. Participating students selected and received 10 books at their appropriate reading levels and reading logs to take home for summer reading. Prizes are awarded in the fall when logs are returned. SummerREADs partnered with The Harry & Jeannette Weinberg Foundation and City Schools to open the Weinberg Libraries to students four days a week during the summer, offering enrichment activities and free breakfast. Each school kicked off the summer reading and library programs with a family literacy event, and teachers delivered prep lessons in their classrooms.
As a component of the Grade Level Reading Initiative, all Baltimore summer programs use common messaging and reading logs produced by the Enoch Pratt Free Library to promote summer literacy and reading every day across Baltimore City.
SummerREADS evaluations over three summers by Dr. Marc Stein at Johns Hopkins University found that children who received books had significantly higher reading scores on the Maryland State Assessments than students in the comparison schools who did not receive books. The addition of the Weinberg libraries led to significant increases in the June to September short-term reading gains relative to a matched comparison group of students who did not receive books or were not actively given the opportunity to participate in the summer program and Library Program libraries. Instead of losing three months of reading proficiency over the summer, rising SummerREADs first graders appear to have on average made gains in learning over the summer, and second graders maintained learning during the summer, showing no gains or losses.