3 Ways to Redesign Your Summer School Program to Maximize Student Achievement

February 20, 2019
Summer School Apex Learning

Although the snow is still falling in many parts of the country and long lazy days in the sun seem like a world away, now is the time to start planning for summer school. Students who may have fallen behind and need to recover a credit or those who need extra support and even for those who want to get ahead, summer is the time for districts to support the individual needs of each student.

In recent years, summer school meant students were required to attend school for four to eight weeks to repeat up to two courses and receive credit toward graduation. These were called “repeater courses,” and they offered students a standard, condensed scope and sequence of a course, focusing on essential skills and concepts.

But now, forward-thinking districts are using online learning to support credit recovery efforts and to personalize student learning through prescriptive assessment. This approach enables competency-based progression and allows for students to spend more time working outside the classroom at their own pace. The shift also allows teachers to facilitate more than one course within a single classroom section, potentially saving districts thousands of dollars in staffing costs. Read our white paper on redesigning your summer school program to increase achievement. As districts continue to leverage online learning during the summer to provide educational opportunities for students with a variety of learning objectives, we recommend considering the following best practices:

Best Practice 1: Remediate gaps in prerequisite knowledge prior to advancing grade levels

Research indicates that many students are unprepared for high school and need support to succeed due to weak foundations in prerequisite concepts. As many of these students enter ninth grade, they experience early patterns of failure that can lead to the belief they will not be able to earn a high school diploma. Without effective forms of intervention and support, these reinforcing patterns of failure can cause students to fall further behind and eventually drop out of school.

When educators fail to intervene with struggling students at the middle-school level, those students are likely to struggle even more in high school. In fact, poor performance in middle school is a key indicator of a student’s likelihood of dropping out of high school. Ninth grade is a particularly pivotal year for students. Ninth graders have the lowest grade point averages, the most missed classes, most failing grades, and more behavior-based disciplinary referrals than other high school grade levels.

But districts across the country are changing the trajectory of at-risk middle school students through summer programs. Students identified as performing below grade level are invited to participate in summer remediation programs where they are given an opportunity to learn and strengthen the prerequisite skills and foundational concepts needed for success at the next grade level. These proactive intervention programs increase the number of students prepared for high school and help end the cycle of academic failure for many students.

Best Practice 2: Increase college and career readiness

Under ESSA, states are required to implement strategies to increase the number of students who are ready to take on college-level coursework before they enroll in college. While colleges and universities offer remedial classes to students who don’t meet the standards, these institutions are looking to high schools to provide students with the necessary academic foundation and skills before they receive a high school diploma. Similarly, trade schools and businesses expect students with high school diplomas to possess skills that will enable them to quickly pick up the tools of their trade. The lack of college readiness has long-term negative consequences.

One in three freshmen will not complete their first year of college. When students take remedial classes before taking credit-bearing college classes, the likelihood that they will drop out of college during their freshmen year increases by 74 percent. Districts are offering programs during the summer to prepare high school students for college entrance exams. In these programs, digital curriculum is leveraged to provide prescriptive assessment that delivers a personalized learning plan with adaptive remediation for each student. Students work at their own pace to achieve mastery of the concepts they most need. Students participating in these programs report an increase in their ACT®, SAT®, and ACCUPLACER® scores, which may improve their chances of entering the college or university of their choice and increase scholarship opportunities.

Best Practice 3: Provide flexible opportunities to earn initial course credit

Summer programs can give students a head start in the coming school year, even for students who did not struggle with academic content in the prior year. Students may choose to participate in summer programs for a variety of reasons, including:

  • A desire to graduate early
  • Qualifying to participate in early college or dual enrollment courses
  • Making time in the upcoming school year schedule for specific courses or work-study experiences


When summer programs are expanded to include opportunities to complete courses for initial credit toward graduation, the use of online courses in blended and virtual environments allow for more students to be included. Schools can also realize significant cost savings compared to traditional summer offerings because each teacher is able to support more students.

Students meet with teachers periodically for instruction, progress check-ins, lab activities, and for assessment proctoring. Robust, online curriculum provides students with the ability to work on lessons and activities from any device, in a location and time of their choosing. Online or blended learning summer programs can meet the needs of students who are unable to physically attend classes at specific times due to transportation issues, life circumstances, or summer jobs.

Maximize the Potential of Summer School

Summer learning time has great potential. In the past, summer school was typically reserved for students who had fallen behind. Now, districts are also leveraging the summertime to help students get ahead, address knowledge skill gaps prior to grade promotion and improve college and career readiness. Districts can get the most out of summer school when programs are expanded to reach more students. Combining online learning with summer programs allows students to work in a variety of locations and on their own schedules to pursue academic goals, free of the constraints of a traditional school day and classroom. Districts are realizing increased graduation rates while ensuring students are prepared for college, life, and work.

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