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Minimize summer learning loss through parent text messaging prompts

February 24, 2020


of 1st–3rd grade students see decline in decoding skills over the summer
of 1st–3rd grade students see decline in decoding skills over the summer

Even when provided rigorous instruction throughout the school year, all students are at risk of significant learning loss over their summer break. The average student experiences one month’s worth of academic declines each summer, while students from low-income backgrounds can fall behind by as many as 2-3 months. This summer slide is also concerning for students in the early grades who are likely to lose progress in critical foundational reading skills.

Educators feel the impact of summer slide

Despite district leaders’ best efforts to develop high-quality, engaging summer programming, the reality is that not all students will participate in summer enrichment activities. Barriers to enrollment include limited transportation, high summer mobility rates, and a lack of available childcare to accommodate half-day programming.

Given the challenge of summer slide, teachers frequently have no choice but to spend significant time reviewing the prior year’s content at the beginning of each new school year.

The problem


of teachers report spending time re-teaching previous skills

The consequences

3–4 weeks

on average are spent reteaching old content at the beginning of the year

The losses


of the school year lost to covering old material forgotten over the summer

Parents often unequipped to combat summer slide

Though parents have a key opportunity to mitigate these learning losses by supporting their children’s reading development over the summer, many are unsure how to do so. Parents also have numerous responsibilities that can preclude them from putting in the time they would like to read with their children.

“I want the best for my child, as any parent does. My son’s teacher tells me that he is behind in reading and recommends that I read to him every day over the summer. She gave me a list of summer books and the school gave us a library card, but it’s so hard to find the time to go.”

2nd Grade Parent, California School District

Use text message prompts to provide parents literacy support strategies

Sending parents text messages to prompt action is a low-cost and easy way to support them in helping maintain or improve their students’ literacy skills over the summer. These messages provide guidance and easy-to-implement strategies that reinforce foundational literacy skills in daily life—such as identifying sounds in oral language, pointing out letters seen on items at the grocery store, or labeling objects in the home to familiarize students with letters and sounds. The prompts should be brief and simple, emphasizing that parental involvement in literacy learning is not only important but that it also does not need to be difficult.

Begin with a call for urgency “Hi [first_name]! Did you know that kids who read 4+ books over the summer fare MUCH better on tests in the fall than their peers who read 0-1 books?”
Prompt teachable moments in the day-to-day Tip: Next time you are at the grocery store, point out the first letters on each box item you buy and connect that letter with a sound
Offer literacy resource linksResource: Here is a free fun app for students to practice vocabulary [link]

Parent messaging proves successful in preventing summer slide

A Brown University randomized controlled trial at a racially and socioeconomically diverse public charter school network in Rhode Island confirmed the impact of parent messaging. The study revealed that texting families suggestions for reinforcing literacy in everyday activities helps to mitigate summer learning loss and positively impacts academic performance, even among low-income student populations.

The parents of 118 students were randomly designated to receive a series of text messages—about two per week—throughout the summer. Parent surveys revealed exceptionally high satisfaction and perceived value, as some parents frequently shared these texts with other families.

All students in the treatment group showed improved reading outcomes the following school year, with the most statistically significant increase in third and fourth grade reading scores. This can likely be attributed to the content of the text messages. Though all of the messages promoted literacy, some focused more on upper elementary content—such as comprehension skills—than on the foundational skills emerging readers must master. The authors of the study concluded that a greater emphasis on these foundational literacy skills (i.e., phonological awareness, print concepts, phonics, and fluency) for the younger students would have likely yielded comparably significant results.

Prioritize variety and access when sending literacy “nudges”

To successfully engage parents in literacy support, researchers recommend varying the types of text messages according to three categories: ideas, resources, and signals.

In contrast to end-of-year reading recommendations or a one-time summer email, these behavioral “nudges” serve as just-in-time reminders throughout the summer that can encourage parents to take action despite competing demands and distractions.

For greatest impact, districts should consider the best time of day to send the messages in relation to typical parent work schedules, home language preferences, and the tone of the messaging. The texts should serve as suggestions that show support for parents and their students, not mandates.

Below are several additional nudging guidelines to consider when launching your district’s summer literacy text message program.

Tips for effectively texting messages to families
Make it personal
Make sure that the messages are personalized and include the recipient’s first name, especially in the first message. The more personalized the message, the higher the response rate.
Create urgency
When possible, create urgency by sending messages with different statistics about summer learning loss.
Allow for opt-out
Recipients need to be able to opt out of receiving text messages. Include an option for recipients to reply with STOP or CANCEL in order to opt out of receiving texts. Let them know that they can always opt back in at a later time and start receiving text messages again.
Shorten links
When including web links, we find using a link shortener like or to be useful in conserving characters in programmed messages.
Less is more
The 160-character limit can be challenging for some organizations that want to send two- and three-part messages. Do not exceed the 160 character limit: the process of honing the content of a text message down to its main point ensures students are able to digest the content quickly.

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