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Originally published Tuesday, June 18, 2013 at 4:44 PM

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Editorial: Reading is fundamental

Hard-won gains narrowing the academic-achievement gap need not be lost to summer. Reading programs continue the effort

Seattle Times Editorial

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ENJOY the summer break, but don’t forget to pick up a book — often.

Summer is a good time to help the very youngest kids hold onto basic literacy skills. Tweens and teens can curl up with a book without fear of having to write a report about it.

A collective “hooray” echoing around Puget Sound signals the end of the school year, but the prospect of students falling academically behind in the absence of teacher-led learning is real.

Summer learning loss is a problem schools must confront every September. The first four to six weeks after the start of a new school year is often spent reteaching students skills they learned in the previous grade but forgot over the summer, according to the National Summer Learning Association, a research group once affiliated with Johns Hopkins University.

A 2011 RAND Corporation study found that low-income students can lose two months of reading skills, while higher-income students actually make slight academic gains over the summer — benefiting from parents who can send them to enrichment camps and on educational vacations.

Most of Washington's school districts offer summer-literacy programs. The Seattle Public Library’s Summer Reading Program is offered at most of its community branches. Research shows that students who read at least four or five books over the summer score better on fall reading tests.

The Seattle Families and Education levy partners with community organizations to offer programs, targeting students who may not get opportunities at home. Summer learning online works as well.

The importance of strong literacy skills cannot be overstated. The ability to read is a requisite to mastering other core subjects, including math.

Summer-education programs have shifted from being for students who failed a class. Summer-enrichment and learning camps are for everyone.

The Program for International Student Assessment tests 15-year-olds from 65 countries every three years in reading, math and science. The 2009 test focused on reading and showed U.S. students reading scores have stayed flat since the test was first given in 2000. We can do better. Our kids need to pick up a book or two or more this summer.

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