4 Questions to Consider as Your School Prepares for Summer School Through the COVID-19 Pandemic

by | May 19, 2020


Summer school will look different this year because most students have lacked the instructional hours, structured classroom, and individualized supports needed to help them successfully complete the 2019-2020 school year. In the same way research shows that students “lose” a significant portion of what they learn over the summer break, we can expect students who have not had access to consistent instruction for the past several weeks to be very behind on curriculum standards as they enter summer school classrooms. Further, students who don’t plan to attend summer school at all could enter the 2020-2021 school year with major gaps in their education.

As your school prepares for the Summer 2020 season, we strongly encourage you to consider the following questions:

  1. What criteria will we use to determine eligibility for summer school?

Normally, only about 25% of students in the USA attend some sort of summer learning program, such as summer school. This year, we must strongly consider the need to expand summer school eligibility to include many more students.

The COVID-19 pandemic started to cause school closures in early to mid-March, with specific closure dates varying by state and school district. This means students will have received instruction exclusively through online and other distance learning formats for as much as two months this spring. Although some students have been able to demonstrate success through distance learning, studies have shown that the vast majority of students will not have had the support they needed to thrive academically. Justin Reich, the Director of the MIT Teaching Systems Lab, describes this phenomenon as an “online penalty” for students who have limited access to the internet and parents who can’t provide the individualized supports required to meet their learning needs.

As you determine which students will be eligible for summer school in your district, consider student populations which are often underserved and likely to be disproportionately impacted by school closures, including:

  • Those with IEPs, including those in SPED programs, with learning disabilities, and with behavioral problems
  • English Language Learners (ELLs) and ESL students
  • Students living in rural and other areas with limited broadband access
  • Students living in single-parent and/or low-income households
  1. How can we differentiate instruction over the summer to raise student achievement in just 4-6 weeks?

Differentiated instruction is more important than ever as summer school students each come into the classroom with their own unique learning situations. It will take some time to figure out where each student has struggled to learn and meet curriculum standards as they have largely been left learn by themselves at home.

The following steps can help your school leaders and teachers differentiate instruction during summer school:

  1. Identify specific instructional targets that are aligned with the district’s curriculum standards.
  2. Use pre-assessments to determine each student’s level of mastery with each target.
  3. Use this combined information to individualize instruction for each student.
  4. Create a simple progress report, checklist that can help you track students’ improvement through summer school.

Check out this case study of a Texas school, which successfully implemented these steps in a high-quality summer school program.

  1. Should we use a ready-made curriculum, a teacher-made curriculum, or a combination of both for summer school?

Unfortunately, there is no perfect solution which completely addresses every instructional need for your summer school program. Now is the time to compare the benefits and drawbacks of ready-made and teacher-made curriculum to decide which option is best for your student body.

Benefits of a Ready-Made Summer School Curriculum

  • This is a time-efficient option for your school, especially considering the massive amount of extra work teachers and school leaders have already faced while addressing the COVID-19 crisis. Lesson plans, assessments, and progress monitoring templates are all included in ready-made curriculum and (hopefully) align with your district’s instructional targets.
  • Progress monitoring assessments help teachers know where they need to modify the curriculum to meet district standards.
  • The ready-made curriculum doubles as a professional development exercise for teachers as they learn new practices and activities to implement in the classroom.

Benefits of Teacher-Made Curriculum

  • Teachers have autonomy when designing their own lesson plans and assessments. This may improve their morale, helping them feel like you trust their judgment and recognize they know their students better than anyone else.
  • Teachers can select the resources and curriculum that align to their lesson plans, without feeling confined to resources they may not feel would work well for their classroom.

The primary downside of teacher-made curriculum is that it’s difficult to ensure uniformity across grade levels, and some groups of students may enter the next grade level with a better understanding of certain subjects than other student groups. The case study we mentioned earlier offers an example of how one school used a ready-made curriculum and allowed teachers to modify it as needed to individualize instruction.

  1. Should we invest in professional support to set our students up for success?

None of us could have expected that a worldwide health pandemic would cause countless challenges for school leaders, teachers, and students. If you feel that your school or district is unprepared to meet these challenges this summer or for the 2020-2021 school year, our team would love to offer collaborative support and guidance. The Center for Student Achievement Solutions offers completely customized professional development for school leaders, educators, school improvement plans, and more. Please schedule a free call with us so we can learn more about your unique challenges.