Bright Spots showcase the work that Grade-Level Reading communities are doing to make progress on school readiness, school attendance and summer learning by 2016.  Continue reading below or download a PDF version.

Today’s feature – highlighting Austin’s work to collect data to determine demand for summer learning programs – is the sixth in a series of “summer” Bright Spots, in advance of Summer Learning Day 2014 on June 20, sponsored by the National Summer Learning Association.

When Central Texas launched its grade-level reading campaign, it already had a major education reform effort addressing two of the Campaign’s three community solutions. “But we did not have a rally around summer learning loss,” says Laura Koenig, of E3 Alliance (Education Equals Economics), an Austin-based regional education collaborative overseeing the Central Texas effort, which now includes GLR work.

In keeping with its longstanding commitment to use data to drive action and track results, EAlliance worked with the community to determine demand. Many organizations were doing summer programming but there was not an overarching system.

“We didn’t have data on where we were,” explains Koenig. “If we knew and reported on it, that would create more awareness and understanding. It has.” Data collection was challenging and is ongoing. But early findings, released in an attention-grabbing December 2013 report, show evidence of unmet needs and summer learning loss.

A leadership group of providers, funders and community organizations is using the findings to inform its strategies. A key player is the Central Texas After-School Network (CTAN), which includes providers of summer programs for low-income children. “We’re looking at our entire system of supports for children in the summer and how we can have really seamless support,” says Koenig.

CTAN provider surveys and leadership group discussions found that

  • Pockets of the community have no summer learning programs for at-risk children.
  • Most programs are offered only in June, the only time space is available in high-needs neighborhood schools.
  • Programs available in July often pose transportation challenges for families because they are in more central locations, rather than in neighborhood schools that are typically within walking distance for children.
  • There is a lack of alignment between programs. For example, at one school, four providers each offered a free program at the same time and recruited the same families.

Providers, school districts and community leaders also sought baseline data on summer learning loss. Early data — garnered from reading assessments given in the spring and fall of 2012 to students entering first through third grades in the Austin Independent School District — found that:

  • About 22 percent of the students who read on or above grade level in the spring read below grade level by the fall.
  • Of those students reading below grade level in the spring, 85 percent remained below grade level in the fall.
  • First-grade students who read below grade level in the spring were significantly more likely to remain below grade level in the fall than were similar second or third graders.

Most surprising was the first-grade finding, which has policy implications because existing summer programming targets third-grade children and older. “First grade was more of a warning area than we had thought,” says Koenig. “It shifted the mindset.”

Prompted by this early information, the leadership group is discussing ways to better align. The number, quality and duration of Central Texas summer programs have increased significantly since 2011, thanks to the Austin-based KDK Harman Foundation, which has publicized its desire to fund STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) summer programs.

And there is a thirst for better data. KDK-Harman is working to form a funders collaborative that will have common reporting and metrics for summer programs. “Funders and providers alike want more data to see if what they’re doing is making a difference,” says Koenig.

While new data and information are providing a clearer picture of what Central Texas needs to do about “summer,” the work has moved forward, relying on national data and best practice research from the National Summer Learning Association, a GLR Campaign partner. For example, last summer the leadership group organized trainings on incorporating literacy activities into summer programs.

“This process has opened the lines of communication in terms of what funders are asking, what providers are asking each other and understanding best practices as a community,” says Koenig.

For more information, contact Laura Koenig at 512-223-7247 or lkoenig@e3alliance.org

Photos: EAlliance; Publication Date: Spring 2014

You can nominate a Bright Spot in your community by emailing Betsy Rubiner at brubiner@gradelevelreading.net

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