Summer reading camps are helping students, says Alabama Reading Initiative director

By: - October 13, 2023 6:57 am
Nine people seated behind a board table, facing an auditorium.

The Alabama State Board of Education approves minutes during its regular meeting on February 9, 2023. (Brian Lyman/Alabama Reflector)

Summer reading camps are helping students make gains in literacy, the director of the Alabama Reading Initiative told members of the Alabama State Board of Education on Thursday.

Bonnie Short, the director of the Alabama Reading Initiative, said that students who have been attending the Alabama summer reading camps have improved their reading, and not just avoided the “summer slide.”

After kindergarten, students who attended the camps saw an average growth of 6.37%, Short said. After first grade, students who attended the camps had an average growth of 5.44%. After second grade at the camps, students grew, on average, by 4.00%, and, after third grade, students grew an average rate of 2.91% in the camps.


Just over 29,000 students attended the camps over the summer, Short said. After kindergarten, 5,677 students attended. After first grade, 8,090 students attended. After second grade, 7,752 students attended. After third grade, 7,497 students attended.

For people who research literacy, Short said, the aim of summer reading camps is to see an average growth of 0%, which would mean that students are avoiding losing progress over the summer. Short said that positive growth, as seen in the Alabama numbers, is even better.

“We don’t want to see them go down, but of course I want growth,” she said.

Short did not provide data on how students improve or lose their reading skills over the summer without these camps.

The summer reading camps are an aspect of the Alabama Literacy Act, which provides resources to schools to improve reading but could require students to repeat third grade if they are not on reading level by that point. The camps need to have at least 60 hours of literacy instruction.

The Act, first passed in 2019, was delayed but is fully in effect for the 2023-24 school year.

Gov. Kay Ivey told reporters after the State Board of Education meeting that she would veto further delays.

“They give me a bill to change the date, I’ll veto it,” she said.

Short said that about 75% of the children enrolled in the program attended the camps.

“That looks really suspicious because they are all the same, but, truly, that is the data,” she said.

Short said that she is expecting higher rates of attendance in future years when the stakes for students are higher.

Research on summer learning loss is mixed, according to a July 2023 Scientific American article, but an analysis of summer math programs suggests that formal summer programs benefit students who are already struggling academically.

State Superintendent Eric Mackey said students in the camps would almost all be students with low scores in the Alabama Comprehensive Assessment Program (ACAP). Short said that students who are in a gray area of passing or failing by just a few points are also invited.

“We can start inviting children to the summer reading camps today based on the information we have from the earlier screener,” she said.

Tracie West, District 2 board member and vice president of the board, said that she has superintendents who have been disappointed with their turnouts. Short said that transportation is a possible reason.

Short also said that, while they need their 60 hours of summer reading, they also want to incorporate more aspects into the camps, such as softball.

“I want our summer reading camp programs to have opportunities inside them that are beyond just reading,” she said.


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Jemma Stephenson
Jemma Stephenson

Jemma Stephenson covers education as a reporter for the Alabama Reflector. She previously worked at the Montgomery Advertiser and graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.