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Study: Digital Summer Learning Boosts Achievement

Participation in a summer learning program that delivers instruction through multiple digital media platforms can lead to significant improvement in students' mathematics, numeracy, and phonics skills, a new report suggests.

The report from WestEd, a nonprofit educational research organization headquartered in San Francisco, showed students in grades 1-2 who participated in The Electric Company's Summer Learning Program averaged substantially higher scores in their end-of-program assessments than in similar assessments completed prior to entering the program.

It did not attempt to determine whether the gains from the 90-minute daily, 24-day program carried over to the students' following school year.

Some ed-tech proponents consider summer a perfect opportunity to reach students with programs that integrate digital media or other technology, in part because those programs aren't subject to the same kind of accountability—and thus curricular inflexibility—as are schools during the conventional school year.

Further, some educators say the reach and effectiveness of summer programs is vitally important for students in low-income areas, who are most vulnerable to summer learning loss, perhaps in part because parents don't have the financial resources to provide for enrichment activities such as summer camps and educational family vacations.

The Electric Company Summer Learning Program, based on the PBS Kids television series and created by Sesame Workshop with grant funding from the U.S. Department of Education, is targeted toward students in those families, according to a press release, though the study evaluated the performance of 152 students from across urban, suburban, and rural backgrounds.

Students who completed the curriculum—which blended new episodes of the TV series, online game play, and other methods of digital instruction—scored an average of 41 percent higher on an assessment of mathematics vocabulary, 20 percent higher on numeracy skills, and 17 percent higher in phonics skills.

The report also found that more than nine in 10 teachers at the 12 participating schools reported a boost in program morale from participating in the program, and a willingness to complete the curriculum again in following years.

The Electric Company Summer Learning Company is just one of an increasing number of multimedia offerings from PBS Kids, which has shifted much of its focus from television to digital media in the last several years.

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