New York City students who read on iPads last summer got better at reading

Hundreds of New York City middle schoolers who read books on iPads last summer became stronger readers— and had fun in the process.

That’s according to a study released last month about the impact of SummerSail, a program that aims to stem “the summer slide” by sending New York City students home for the summer with iPads loaded with a digital library and software that tracks their reading. (The program is provided by the company LightSail, whose CEO Gideon Stein is on Chalkbeat’s board.)

We reported last year that SummerSail officials had asked researchers at Johns Hopkins University to study the program’s impact. Now, we know exactly what the researchers asked, and what they learned.

The study concluded that students spent less time reading on their iPads than officials had hoped — possibly because they were reading paper books instead — and did not change the way they perceived reading as an activity. But students who did spend more than half an hour a day reading through SummerSail saw their reading skills increase during a time of year when students more typically experience setbacks.

Across the city, schools are embracing technology in their reading initiatives. The Icahn Charter network uses LightSail in its summer reading and full-year literacy programs.

And it’s not just LightSail that’s bringing more books in handheld packages to young readers. This summer, all middle and school students in Success Academy charter schools received an iPad with the TumbleBooks platform as part of the network’s summer reading initiative. At other schools — including JHS 162, a renewal school — students have access to the myON reading library through Chromebooks and iPads.

With SummerSail serving roughly 500 students in 20 struggling middle schools this year, the researchers offer a recommendation that will not surprise anyone who has tried to boost students’ reading skills. The program should “review strategies for the early identification of and support for readers struggling to meet the weekly time commitment.” In other words: get students to read more.