Student project fuels 'summer slide' study

by Peggy Coulombe

While the thermometer is soaring in metro Phoenix, K-12 children’s reading skills are slip-sliding away. The “summer slide,” a term coined by local educators, is a proven stumbling block to student learning; one that many believe can be countered by local summer reading programs. There has always been a question of how to test this belief, particularly now when municipalities’ budgets are strained and planners need tangible proof of program impact.

Hoping to help close this knowledge gap, the Scottsdale Public Library, Arizona State University and the Scottsdale Unified School District launched a collaborative effort this summer to examine the relationship between summer reading and classroom performance via statistical analysis.

“Summer reading programs are important in many ways, including supporting academic growth and progress,” said John Chang, an ASU senior in the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, who spearheaded the project. “However, there’s no quantitative, concrete evidence to support that belief. So we wanted to create a statistical analysis that could be used do this type of real-world assessment.”

Chang had previously worked on a project in Professor May Boggess’ experimental statistics class (STP 429), which challenges students to create projects that take on real questions and analyze real-world data. He chose to focus on library expenditures and impacts because of his own personal experience growing up in San Francisco, where summer reading programs received strong support.

News about Chang’s class project made its way by word of mouth to Laura Stone, the federal and state grants consultant for the Arizona State Library, and Holly Henley, the library development division director for the Arizona State Library, archives and public records.

Stone and Henley were aware of a study in its first stages of development with the Scottsdale Public Library and The Scottsdale Unified School District that would benefit from Chang’s mathematical modeling. Medina Zick, youth and teen coordinator for the Scottsdale Public Library, was excited when she heard from Chang.

“The timing couldn’t have been better,” said Zick. “This is Scottsdale’s first year participating in an online summer reading program, which allowed us the opportunity to collect participant data.”

“We had established a relationship with the Scottsdale Unified School District to begin looking for correlations or trends involving participation in a summer reading program and benchmark test scores,” explained Zick. “The partnership with ASU provided us with experts to gather the statistics and develop an effective method of analyzing them. We’re really excited to be moving forward with the project.”

Parents of students enrolled in Scottsdale schools and participating in a summer reading program are asked to participate. Even though the Scottsdale summer reading schedule is drawing to a close, it's not too late to get your kids, aged 5-12 years, enrolled. Parents and children can sign up on the Scottsdale Public Library website at http://www.scottsdalelibrary.org/summerreading/survey. Also, those already in the summer reading program can join the ASU study up until Aug. 23, 2013.

In addition to helping the library understand the impacts of its summer reading program, participants also earn incentives as they complete their reading, including coupons for free meals from Benihana and Chipotle restaurants, and a new book upon completion of the program.

For more information, please contact John Chang at sjchang2@asu.edu or Scottsdale Public Library at APorter@scottsdaleaz.gov.

- See more at: http://researchmatters.asu.edu/stories/student-project-fuels-summer-slid...