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Report: More Books for Rural Kids, Classrooms, May Decrease Summer Learning Loss

Rural children who have access to nonfiction or informational texts, both in classrooms and at home, could avoid losing literacy skills and actually increase reading proficiency over the summer, according to a new report.

The report, "Read for Success: Combating the Summer Learning Slide in America," followed 33,000 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade rural or low-income students in 16 states for two years to see if summer learning loss could be mitigated. Schools involved in the study adopted part or all of a "Read for Success" model, which was developed by Reading is Fundamental, a literacy organization funded in part by the U.S. Department of Education. That model encourages six home or school-based initiatives, including student ownership of books, reading materials in classrooms, and parental engagement. Students involved in the study received 16 books to keep during the two years, which were generally nonfiction or information texts relating to science, technology, engineering, the arts, or mathematics (STEAM). Teachers also received reading materials for their classrooms, and schools received $1,000 to use on an enrichment activity such as a field trip.

According to the report, 57 percent of students tested in the study showed "significant improvements in reading proficiency" from spring to fall each year, compared to the national average of 80 percent of low-income children who show loss in reading proficiency during that time. About 50 percent of 3rd grade students involved in the report increased reading proficiency, and, overall, students with the lowest reading scores in each grade progressed the most.

Sarah Pitcock, the CEO of the National Summer Learning Association, said on a press call Tuesday that the model suggests how important it is to provide more resources to children in disadvantaged areas during the summer. "In urban communities and rural communities across the country, many students are not able to ride their bikes and catch fireflies and go to camp," Pitcock said. "The reality of summer today is when the school doors close for many kids...they are completely cut off from a variety of resources."

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Research shows that all children are at risk of summer learning loss, but low-income children may slide the most academically. Summer learning programs, literacy materials, and access to books and libraries are often lacking in rural communities across the country. Some rural libraries in states like Alabama and Missouri have closed or are unable to offer programs and services due to a lack of funding.

Several nonprofits across the country have launched programs similar to the Reading is Fundamental program, and are attempting to provide literacy professional development for teachers and stock classrooms and summer programs with books and reading materials. A new collaboration between the Rural Trust, the National Council of Teachers of English, the nonprofit First Book, and the Institute for Educational Leadership will provide coaching for teachers and reading materials in 21 rural schools, and a new federal grant announced in March will provide books, technology, and parent education to 30 rural schools in Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, and South Carolina. 

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