First, the good news. Regardless of a child's reading ability when he or she enters school in the fall, the child grows at about the same rate as his or her peers. Now, the bad news. The reading skills of low-income children generally diminish over summer break, and the gap between them and their peers widens each summer. By the end of fifth grade, low-income children are approximately 2 1/2 years behind their more affluent peers in terms of reading ability, primarily because the zigzag appearances in the graph below accumulate. For more information, please read our white paper on summer learning loss (PDF).

The graph below depicts the typical relationship between income levels and reading achievement both during the school year and the summer. The graph assumes that children are NOT attending a summer learning program. The bottom line represents the average reading achievement level of low-income children, and the top line represents the level of middle-income children. Low-income children lose a significant amount of reading knowledge over the summer months while middle-income children make slight gains. This contributes to the widening of the achievement gap.

Summer Reading Trajectories

Fairchild, R. McLaughlin, B. & Brady, J. (2006). "Making the Most of Summer: A Handbook on Effective Summer Programming and Thematic Learning." Baltimore, MD: Center for Summer Learning.