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A growing number of states have now closed schools for the rest of the year.  Such closures have caused many to wonder, “Will students fall behind in reading ability?”  We believe the data on summer reading loss can help us project the answer.  In this blog article, we will inform you of that research and provide strategies for reducing the COVID-slide.

Summer Slide Research

It is well known that many children lose reading ability over the summer (Kim & White, 2011). More exactly, the gap in reading ability between low income and middle-income students grows during the summer months and this gap is cumulative. By the 9th grade over half the gap in reading ability between students from low and middle-income homes can be explained by what does not happen in the summer—reading. Children from middle-income homes tend to read during the summer, while those from low-income homes do not (Alexander, Entwistle & Olsen, 2007).  Reading over the summer is key; it is also key when schools are closed.

Several solutions have been tried to increase the amount of time students spend reading outside of school.  What we have learned from these studies can guide us as we navigate the potential COVID-slide. We will look at the work of Richard Allington and his colleagues (2010), and James Kim (2011):

  • Simply giving students books to read improves reading ability somewhat (Allington, 2010).
  • Providing books has a greater impact on reading achievement when those books are matched to the interests and reading level of the students.
  • Providing high-interest and appropriately leveled books has a greater impact on reading achievement when the students write about their fluency or comprehension (Kim & White, 2011).

Implications for the COVID-Crisis

The implications of these studies on our present circumstances are profound. To prevent a slide in reading achievement, perhaps the best and most cost-effective solution is to provide books to families, offer a series of simple lessons for practicing fluency and comprehension skills while reading, and follow this with some accountability measures for students and parents. 

Here are our suggestions:

  • Provide families with a short list of books organized by interest and reading level for them to select from.

Students participating in the Read Side by Side Reading Program will likely have an interest in topics, genres, and authors covered in their coursework.  Provide a list of titles to expand these interests.  It can be motivating for students to have the challenge of reading all of the books in a series, or several books by the same author.

  • Make these books available to families through a checkout system or use a funding source to give families free access to these books.
  • Send home a simple comprehension activity for students to complete as they read each book (we recommend our independent tri-fold or reading log).
  • Provide a series of lessons (in person or online) teaching families how to support fluency and comprehension practice (Coming Soon).
  • Reward students for their efforts!

Learn More

To learn more about the research on the summer slide, we recommend the article Solving the Problem of Summer Reading Loss (Kim and White, 2011).

If you are a teacher or librarian supporting students with reading at home during the COVID-crisis, we want to hear from you!  Please click here to share your story or reach out to us at


Written by

Sarah Collinge & Peter Dewitz


For more information about teaching virtually, please read our blog post The Ultimate Guide to Virtual Teaching (the C. I. A. Approach)