Access, Ownership and Choice – Reversing Summer Slide

Access to high-quality books, book ownership and a child’s choice in book selection can do more than prevent summer slide, it can improve reading proficiency.

Summer slide is the term used to describe the tendency for students, particularly students from low-income families, to lose academic gains made during the previous school year. It is a key driver of widening the achievement gap. While students tend to progress at the same rate during the school year, more than 80 percent of children from economically disadvantaged families lose reading skills over the summer.[1]


“In the summer months, all children are at risk of losing some of the learning and skills they’ve acquired over the school year,” said Karl Alexander, Ph.D., Academy Professor and Research Professor of Sociology at the Johns Hopkins University and co-author of the study Lasting Consequences of the Summer Learning Gap. “This is especially true for children from economically disadvantaged communities. If the summer learning slide is not addressed at an early age, these children fall behind by up to three years in reading comprehension by the end of fifth grade, with the potential to widen to four years by the end of twelfth grade if left unattended. Sustained reading of age appropriate, engaging literature is a key component of the solution.”

One factor is book ownership. The majority of children living in poverty do not have books in the home, a condition that Unite for Literacy calls book deserts. Their interactive map shows the average number of books in the home by community, county and state.

Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) Read for Success is one of several programs that is based on research showing that access to high quality books, book ownership and a child’s choice in selection may be key factors in reading achievement. RIF tested this model in 16 states – including North Carolina – across 173 schools in low-income and rural communities with more than 33,000 students from the second, third and fourth grades. The model had six components:

  • Book ownership for students;
  • Books for the classroom;
  • Professional development for teachers;
  • Literacy resources;
  • Science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics (STEAM) enrichment activities; and,
  • Parental engagement.

The study found:

  • On average 57 percent of participants showed statistically significant improvements in reading proficiency from spring to fall each year.
  • Nearly half of all third grade students increased reading proficiency.
  • Students performing the lowest in each grades showed the greatest increase in reading proficiency.
  • Every student with strong literacy skills increased their reading proficiency.
  • Schools with the greatest improvements incorporated a full culture change and had strong parental involvement.



In North Carolina, programs like Book Harvest’s Books on Break and Wake Up and Read, a Campaign for Grade-Level Reading community, are helping children from low-income families build summer reading libraries.

[1] Alexander, K.L., D. R. Entwisle, and L.S. Olson. 2007. “Lasting Consequences of Summer Learning Gap.” American Sociological Review 72 (4): 167-80; professional presentation by Dr. Alexander, February 12, 2015.