Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

When Schools Lose Days To Snow, Is Making Up Lost Time An Adequate Substitute?

The first snowpack of the winter on the front lawn of Indianapolis' Washington High School.

Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

The first snowpack of the winter on the front lawn of Indianapolis' Washington High School in 2012.

Compared to last year, harsh winter weather has prompted Indiana districts to cancel or delay classes on more than twice as many days this school year, if an analysis by our colleagues at WTIU News is any indication.

State officials are now looking for ways to relieve the strain the closures have placed on schools’ schedules. At the State Board of Education meeting last week, superintendent Glenda Ritz announced a novel solution: Allow schools to adjust their calendars make up snow days hour-by-hour, rather than day-by-day.

In other words, as Chalkbeat Indiana‘s Scott Elliott puts it, a school could make up one cancelled six-hour day by adding an hour to six later school days.

From a research perspective, judging whether adding an hour onto six school days is equivalent to one extra day of student learning is tricky.

But after already waiving two days from Indiana’s 180-day school year and extending the state’s March testing window, state officials say the winter weather has left them with few practical options.

“You have to make the best with what we have and use your best common sense moving forward,” board member Brad Oliver tells StateImpact. “I don’t know that it would be reasonable to keep tacking days on and pushing [the end of the school year] back further and further.”

The trouble with researching whether lengthening school days can make up for lost learning time?

“Most schools that have lengthened time for student learning have not done so in isolation, but as part of a larger reform effort,” SEDL researchers Stacey Joyner and Concepcion Molina write. “This makes it difficult or impossible to isolate the effects of extending the school day or school year on student achievement.”

For instance, the touted KIPP charter school network commissioned research to quantify that its longer school day — starting at 7:30 a.m. and running until 5 p.m. — is an integral component of their schools’ success. But there are other factors at work in KIPP: the school spends a lot on student instruction and employs “exceedingly rigid disciplinary policies and parental contracts.”

But despite a lack of evidence that longer school days cause greater student learning gains, a Wallace Foundation analysis found there is at least evidence of a correlation between longer school days and learning gains.

“The majority of studies reviewed (20 out of 27 studies) found mostly favorable relationships between [longer school days] and academic outcomes,” Wallace’s review reads.

A National Academy of Education white paper says longer school days can have “powerful” impacts on student learning if packaged with effective strategies for improving student learning. But, the authors conclude, “simply adding minutes to the time spent in class” is less effective in isolation.

“In fact, researchers have found that every 10 percent increase in school time can be expected to produce only a 2 percent increase in learning,” the paper reads.

But, of course, Indiana’s circumstance differs from the scenarios these researchers are discussing. Schools wouldn’t be appending additional days to the school year, they’d be trying to make up for lost time.

State superintendent Glenda Ritz says school leaders would have to apply for waivers from Indiana guidelines that prevent them from making up snow days hour by hour. She says she’ll entertain these waivers because she wants to give schools enough flexibility to prepare students for upcoming ISTEP+ exams.

“I’m sure that’s going to be at the top of their lists. If we add time, how is it going to be added so we get the benefit we need so it’s preparing the kids?” Ritz told State Board members during last week’s meeting.

Ritz says local school boards would have to approve changes to district calendars.


  • Karynb9

    How is this “add a little time to each day” working at the secondary level? If you add ten minutes to each class, is that really enough to get through five days’ worth of missed lessons? Can you cover the five missed lessons in geometry with those extra ten minutes a day (“Do all of the problems on page 134…and four of the problems on page 135″), or do a couple of the 45-minute-long chemistry experiments that were missed (“We’ll do 1.2 different experiments today, kids”)? I think that adding minutes to the day will be doing nothing more than giving kids back their full summer vacation — I don’t think you’re actually replacing the content from the missed days. There is more flexibility at the elementary level, but at the secondary level when lessons are divided in such clear blocks of time because of a set bell schedule, I don’t think this is going to be an adequate way to make up content that was missed. Of course, kids in high school don’t take ISTEP, so who cares, right?

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