Four-day school week popular statewide; correlations to student achievement uncertain

Lauren Blair

— From four-day school weeks to shorter summer breaks, Colorado’s 178 school districts run the gamut of school calendar arrangements. Researchers disagree, however, about whether certain calendar arrangement can boost student achievement.

Moffat County School District is examining alternatives to the traditional school calendar — including both a five-day and four-day calendar with shorter summer breaks — with the intent of improving student achievement and teacher development. However, some parents are concerned that extending the calendar could negatively impact kids’ summer activities and agricultural activities.

Colorado is already home to a surprising number of school districts that run on a four-day school week.

Nearly half of all Colorado school districts have at least one school that operates on a four-day school week, while 41 percent of districts run completely on a five-day week, according to data from the Colorado Department of Education.

Nearby Meeker School District is one such district on a four-day school week, as is Rangely School District, Garfield School District No. Re-2, which serves Rifle, Silt and New Castle and several districts in Jackson and Grand counties.

The majority of districts that have adopted the schedule are rural, accounting for a relatively small percentage of Colorado’s student population, according to one 2013 study by D. Mark Anderson of Montana State University and Mary Beth Walker of Georgia State University.

Their study of standardized test scores from Colorado schools on four-day calendars indicates “there is little evidence that moving to a four-day week compromises student academic achievement.”

But while the four-day school week may not negatively impact student achievement, it’s not clear that it would help it either. The four-day alternative developed by MCSD’s calendar committee also shortens summer break, which administrators claim could reduce “backsliding” during the summer and the amount of time teachers must spend reviewing the prior year’s curriculum.

It’s “to help students stay engaged in their learning and not backslide so much after almost a three-month hiatus of learning and also to give shorter chunks of learning before there’s a nice break,” said MCSD Director of Curriculum and Assessments Amy Ward.

The four-day option would start Aug. 10 for the 2016-17 school year and end June 15, significantly extending the duration of the school year.

The vast majority of Colorado districts, including MCSD, end before Memorial Day. However, other districts with June closing dates this year include Steamboat Springs School District (June 9), Meeker School District (June 2), Aspen School District (June 7), and districts in Grand, Jackson and Montrose counties.

University of Colorado Boulder research professor Gene Glass disagrees that shortening summer break — or even going to a year-round calendar — has any significant impact on student achievement, according to a report published on the National Education Policy Center website.

“As to the achievement argument, there’s no evidence that shows that rearranging those 180 days in any way you like is going to appreciably affect kids’ learning,” Glass said in a phone interview.

Glass compared student achievement in three schools that went to a year-round calendar — one year after implementing it — to achievement in traditional calendar schools and found that “ differences between standardized test scores in the two types of schools were found to be insignificantly small even after matching pupils on IQ,” according to his report.

Nonetheless, another report from the Center for Public Education indicated some improvement in reading and math scores on a year-round calendar, though the studies examined were focused largely on the elementary level.

Some Moffat County parents point to nearby Hayden School District, which starts later than MCSD — Sept. 8 this school year compared to Aug. 31 — and ends at the same time. Parent Gayle Zimmerman opposes the two proposed alternatives developed by the committee, but favors something akin to Hayden’s calendar.

“The current calendar (2015-2016) is acceptable and I feel it is not broken, so why fix it?” Zimmerman said in an email. “The Hayden district calendar is even more favorable as it provides the most continual instruction time.”

Contact Lauren Blair at 970-875-1794 or or follow her on Twitter @CDP_Education.

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