“Snow Day” Effect Lowers Test Scores, Complicates Accountability, Researchers Find

Education Next Announcement

For Immediate Release: November 10, 2009

Dave Marcotte (410-455-1455), marcotte@umbc.edu
Benjamin Hansen (805-284-5935), benjamin.econ.hansen@gmail.com

STANFORD — At a time when Education Secretary Arne Duncan has made clear his view that American students spend too little time in the classroom, and as Hawaii has come under sharp criticism from the Obama administration for shortening its school year in response to budgetary pressures, researchers Dave Marcotte and Benjamin Hansen summarize new evidence that expanding instructional time is as effective as other commonly discussed educational interventions intended to boost learning.

Dave Marcotte is professor of public policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Benjamin Hansen is a research associate at IMPAQ International, LLC. Their article, “Time for School?” appears in the forthcoming issue of Education Next and is now available online at www.educationnext.org.

In studies conducted in 2007 and 2008 Marcotte and Hansen found significant effects on test scores from year-to-year changes in the length of the school year due to bad weather—a “snow day” effect. The researchers compared how schools fared on state assessments in years when there were frequent cancellations due to snowfall to the performance of the very same schools in relatively mild winters. The percentage of students passing math assessments fell by about one-third to one-half a percentage point for each day school was closed.  The effect of additional instructional days was quite similar to the effect of increasing teacher quality and reducing class size.

“There can be no doubt that expanding the amount of time American students spend in school is an idea popular with many education policymakers and has long been so. What makes the present different is that we now have solid evidence that anticipated improvements in learning will materialize,” Marcotte and Hansen write.

As education policymakers consider lengthening the school year, it is important to recognize that expanding instructional time offers both opportunities and hazards for another reform that is well established, the accountability movement, the authors note. “Educators, policymakers, parents, and economists are sure to agree that if students in one school learn content in half the time it takes comparable students at another school to learn the same content, the first school is doing a better job. Yet state and federal accountability systems do not account for the time students actually spent in school when measuring gains, and so far have no way of determining how efficiently schools educate their students.  Depending on the financial or political costs of extending school years, the authors note, those with a stake in education might think differently about gains attributable to the quality of instruction provided and gains attributable to the quantity.”

Read “Time for School?” now online at www.educationnext.org.

Education Next is a scholarly journal published by the Hoover Institution that is committed to looking at hard facts about school reform. Other sponsoring institutions are the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance and the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.

Caleb Offley (585) 319-4541
Hoover Institution, Stanford University
Stanford, CA 94305-6010

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