Mary Beth Walker, dean of the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University, has just published the draft of a study looking at four-day school weeks and their impact on elementary school students.
Her study offers a surprising conclusion: The adoption a four-day school week had a positive and often statistically significant relationship with performance in both reading and mathematics.
The study estimates the impact of the four-day school week on student achievement using 4th grade reading and 5th grade mathematics test scores in Colorado; more than a third of Colorado districts have adopted four-day schedules. Walker co-authored “Does Shortening the School Week Impact Student Performance? Evidence from the Four-Day School Week” with D. Mark Anderson of Montana State University.
According to the authors: “The four-day school week is associated with an increase of over 7 percentage points in the percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced on the math achievement tests, and this result is estimated with precision. This represents roughly a 12 percent increase from the mean test scores for schools on traditional schedule.”
While not as pronounced in reading, the shortened week still had a positive point estimate of more than three percentage points. The study states: “For math, we find that the biggest share of the improvement comes from the students formerly classified as partially proficient… As a result, we see a large and statistically significant increase in the percentage of students scoring at the proficient level. For reading, the only statistically significant results occur in the lowest and the highest categories.”
The study suggests that the shorter week improves student attendance. Parents are also more likely to schedule appointments on the day off so fewer students miss class for medical or dental appointments. The four-day schedule permits flexibility in the event of weather-related school cancellations; schools can reschedule missed days without increasing the length of the school year.
The authors cite other research that teachers find that the four-day week cut out wasted time and forced them to focus their instruction more successfully. In some districts, the day off is devoted to teacher planning and collaboration. The authors say many school districts have reported fewer teacher absences after switching to the alternative schedule.
The study concludes: “In a time of tough budget situations for most public school systems, a variety of cost-saving measures have been adopted. To relieve financial pressures, a growing number of smaller and more rural school districts are switching from the traditional Monday through Friday school week to a four-day-week schedule. One concern, however, is that student academic performance may be compromised by such a switch. The results presented in this paper illustrate that academic outcomes are not sacrificed under the four-day week; in fact, we provide some evidence that math and reading achievement scores in elementary schools actually improve following the schedule change. The math results in particular are robust to a number of alternative specifications and checks.”
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog