The Impact of a Well-Designed Summer Reading Program

By Jimmy Kim

Winter 2014

“On average, summer vacation creates a three-month gap in reading achievement between students from low- and middle-income families,” say Thomas White (University of Virginia) and James Kim, Helen Chen Kingston, and Lisa Foster (Harvard Graduate School of Education) in this article in Reading Research Quarterly. “Even small differences in summer learning can accumulate across the elementary years, resulting in a large achievement gap by the time students enter high school.” The gap is caused by well-documented SES differences in books in the home, access to public libraries, parents organizing literacy-related activities, and the amount of time children spend over the summer reading books that interest them.

White, Kim, Kingston, and Foster report on their study of the READS program (Reading Enhances Achievement During Summer) in 19 elementary schools. The program provides summer books matched to students’ interests and reading level and supports their summer reading through teacher lessons before the summer break, materials sent to students and parents over the summer, postcards for students to mail in, and teacher phone calls over the summer to encourage reading and have students retell one book (teachers weren’t always able to reach students on the phone, and not all the postcards were returned).

The results: READS-program students in high-poverty schools did much better than their control group, doing about as well on reading tests at the end of the summer as they did at the beginning – in other words, the program prevented summer reading loss. Surprisingly, READS-program students in moderate-poverty schools did worse than their control group. “One possible explanation for the negative effects,” say the authors, “is that the READS program of matched book delivery caused students to read fewer books over the summer than they ordinarily would have.” It’s also possible that control-group students’ parents figured out they were not in the treatment group (no books and postcards were being delivered over the summer) and made extra efforts to get their children reading.

The bottom line: well-designed summer reading programs can prevent summer reading loss for low-SES students – and at much less cost than an in-school summer program. But for schools in which fewer than 75 percent of students are eligible for free and reduced price meals, the impact of summer reading programs is questionable. More research is needed.

“Replicating the Effects of a Teacher-Scaffolded Voluntary Summer Reading Program: The Role of Poverty” by Thomas White, James Kim, Helen Chen Kingston, and Lisa Foster in Reading Research Quarterly, January/February/March 2014 (Vol. 49, #1, p. 5-30),; White can be reached at

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