Literacy Program LightSail Stalls ‘Summer Slide,’ Improves Skills

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

An independent study out of Johns Hopkins University has found that a program meant to reverse the "summer slide" helped to sustain, and in some cases even increase, the reading performance of middle school students in New York City over the summer months.

The study found that participation in the adaptive literacy program called LightSail resulted in an increase in student engagement and Lexile growth with just 30 minutes per day.

In a separate meta-analysis of student reading data by socio-economic status, students in low-income communities were found to be more likely to lose between two and three months of learning over the summer. Meanwhile, their peers typically either maintained their literacy skills or added to them in the same time period.

The summer slide is considered to be cumulative, accounting for over half of the achievement gap that exists by the time students reach the ninth grade.

LightSail was created in an effort to combat the summer slide. The educational technology company seeks to boost literacy development while at the same time instilling a love of reading in children through its SummerSail program. In addition, the company works with a third party to determine whether the program is successful in its goal.

"Based on Lexile growth, the research suggests the students who read on LightSail over the summer for 30 minutes or more, returned to school at a reading level projected for November versus where we'd expect to see them lose ground – this is a meaningful gain of five to eight months over the devastating ‘summer slide' scenario," said Pam Allyn, founder of LitWorld, the global literacy initiative that offers help to children in the United States and over 60 other countries.

The program uses algorithms to ensure that students are connected with "just-right" texts based on MetaMetrics' Lexile reading assessment currently in use in classrooms throughout the country. The platform is able to track student reading behavior and achievement outcomes through the use of personalized libraries and other learning technologies in order to engage and excite student learners.

In total, 280 middle school students from New York City were observed for the study, as well as 17 teachers and five coaches from New York City's Middle School Quality Initiative (MSQI). Student demographics included 91.7% minority learners, with 88.8% eligible for free or reduced-price lunches and 12.7% being English language learners.

Students participated in the SummerSail program for a period of seven weeks. Researchers paid close attention to the impact on student learning that the technology had, as well as the impact on reader identity and perceptions of the technology.

The findings show that students who participated for just 15 minutes per day were able to increase their Lexile scores, although those who used the program for 30 minutes a day showed the greatest results.

One teacher noted, "I really enjoyed the ability of being able to respond to students' thinking, as it created a very meaningful reading experience." Another said, "The students were engaged so much more, and they enjoyed reading on the iPad. It was difficult to stop them when they were reading."

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