Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Why Snow Days Might Be Bad For Kids

Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

The first flakes of the '11-12 school year fell on November 29.

Snow days: good for kid movie plots — and bad for kids’ test scores?

As parts of Indiana brace for the first slushy snowfall of the season, consider a 2009 study that found passage rates on standardized math tests fell by as much as half of a percentage point for each inch of snow.

The study’s authors looked at snowfall and testing data in Colorado and Maryland, saying their goal was to quantify how much one day’s-worth of time in class affected students’ exam scores.

Their findings? For every day students missed school, overall passage rates fell by “about one-third to one-half a percentage point.”

In more technical terminology, study authors Dave Marcotte and Benjamin Hansen write on Education Next:

Each additional inch of snow in a winter [in Colorado and Maryland] reduced the percentage of 3rd, 5th, and 8th grade students who passed math assessments by between one-half and seven-tenths of a percentage point, or just under 0.0025 standard deviations. To put that seemingly small impact in context… winters with average levels of snowfall (about 17 inches) the share of students testing proficient is about 1 to 2 percentage points lower than in winters with little to no snow…

[In Maryland,] the percentage of students passing math assessments fell by about one-third to one-half a percentage point for each day school was closed, with the effect largest for students in lower grades.

Why Colorado and Maryland, by the way? The authors write these two states see high variations in their levels of overall snowfall.

Indiana annual snowfall averages vary from north to south. Evansville receives an average of 10 inches of snow per year, for example. Indianapolis averages about 25 inches, while South Bend sees an average of 66 inches of snow per winter.

Before you knock down your snowman and hit the books, remember the study only considers math scores. Marcotte and Hansen themselves point out another study which finds more days in school can actually have a downward effect on students’ reading scores.


  • Eva

    apparently the author had some trouble with writing in school, too….in that usage the correct form is ‘effect’ not ‘affect’.

    • StateImpact Indiana

      Way too many snow days. I is a Minnesota native…

    • Bobcostas

      actually you’re incredibly incorrect. affect would be the proper word to use.

      • StateImpact Indiana

        No, she’s right. Referred to an earlier incorrect usage of the word, which was corrected. (after “downward” in the last paragraph)

  • rickygr

    Snow days were sure good for me when I was a kid. Some of the best times I had were shoveling snow, pushing cars out of stuck places, snow forts, snowball fights, and wandering around with my friends. A snowy night, with the promise of no school, was cause for elation.

  • Dale096

    Maybe robots would perform better than humans. Is it going to boil down to stealing our childhood before we realize the problems here are not problems at all, but perceptions of those more in tune to their data, than their children..?

    • StateImpact Indiana

      Thanks for your comment. I don’t get the impression from reading the study they’re advocating “stealing childhood,” or even stopping the practice of cancelling school… Their research, as I wrote, aimed to “quantify how much one day’s-worth of time in class affected students’ exam scores.”

      Isn’t it unsurprising that time outside of school doesn’t have a positive impact on test scores?

    • SortingHat

      Welcome to the self sustaining Google + City! No humans needed other the a few supervisors as everything is automated. Even this post is automated! :) *wink wink* *nudge nudge*

  • Dale096

    Must be those publishing these astounding results sat at home watching TV and playing board games on snow days. They probably have never felt excruciating pain of frozen fingers warming under a stream of cold water while anticipating a cup of hot cocoa ( made with unpastuerized milk… horror of horrors). Sounds like the authors needed more cowpies squishing between their toes and less time being precoscious brats in the classroom., more bugs, and worms, and dirt. I guess my saying this probably defines me as a bully, eh??

    • StateImpact Indiana

      Can you “squish” around in cowpies on snowdays? Wouldn’t they have frozen?

  • prairiefences

    This seems to me to be more of a comment on attendance in general: For every day students missed school, overall passage rates fell by “about one-third to one-half a percentage point.” As a teacher myself, I would say a student’s attendance is the biggest factor in whether or not he or she is successful in school. I wonder if this study took into consideration how many other days these students may have missed.

    • StateImpact Indiana

      Reading the original, I think you’re right.

      It seems to me like the Colorado/Maryland example did look at snow days, and then the authors expressed the results in inches — perhaps comparing test results by seasonal snowfall, not factoring in snow days. They cite another example, however, which is about days of school missed due to snow. Same result there.

  • EBNY

    What a silly article. And how sad that someone actually studied this? The issue is that children are put under way too much stress meeting demands on some test when more attention should be given to a healthy upbringing which included snow days.

  • Anonymous

    Another example of big liberal government telling us how stupid we are. Is snow making the roads dangerous, school buses not running due to the weather. No problem, you still need to send your kids school if something bad happens it is your fault for sending them out in the bad weather.

  • LeeCO

    This article, like much of public education since NCLB, fails to embrace the fact that there might be other indicators of student learning and well being. Data driven education has done to learning what Emily Dickinson’s poem “Splitting the Lark” asserts science has done to life. When you try to split a lark to find it’s music the song is gone. When you try to quantify every aspect of a child’s education, the joy of learning is gone. May every student who gets a snow day take joy in learning weather patterns, shoveling snow, building snow men or forts, how their body reacts to the cold, and the comfort of coming in from the cold.

  • S Shugars

    Maybe kids are just distracted by the weather. I know when I am working and there is a thunderstorm, I tend to pay more attention to that. The test scores to inches of snow may be correlated but it doesn’t seem as if it would be causal. Perhaps more research. These kinds of studies are so interesting. Without experimentation and study, we would have much less knowledge of our world.

  • S Shugars

    Also, in many areas of the country, snow days are unavoidable. So I doubt whether they’re going to be doing away with the practise and subjecting kids to dangerous road conditions just to boost test scores by a couple points, in the event that the two are causally linked.

  • Rusty Shackleford

    Down with standardized testing, up with miniskirts!

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