Under the Hood

Back To School: 4-Day School Weeks May Improve Elementary Test Scores, Attendance

School
A new study suggests less may be more when it comes to young kids going to school. Larry Darling CC BY-NC 2.0

Kids learn to covet three-day weekends from the time they first enter grade school. Labor Day weekend and other random holidays provide the chance to escape school a day early and have more time for leisure activities. Now, a new study on students’ reading and math scores finds a permanent four-day school week may actually be beneficial to education.

Published in Education Finance and Policy, the study compared fourth and fifth-grade reading and math tests from the Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP); students were both participating in four- and five-day school weeks. The researchers saw that a four-day school week had a statistically significant impact on math scores for fifth-grade students. Reading scores, however, were not affected. These results surprised the team, which was made up of researchers from Georgia State University and Montana State University.

"What interested me about our results is they were completely opposite to what we anticipated," said dean of the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State, Mary Beth Walker. "We thought that especially for the younger, elementary school kids, longer days on a shorter school week would hurt their academic performance because their attention spans are shorter. Also, a longer weekend would give them more opportunity to forget what they had learned."

The study did not support previous research that found moving to a four-day school week would compromise academic achievement in students — an important finding for U.S. schools looking to cut costs without hindering performance. However, the study also did not find a measurable impact on reading scores. 

"The idea that the change in the calendar did not have negative effects we thought was an important result," Walker said.

Some school districts have already been running on a four-day week schedule for years. Many rural districts in western states, like Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming, have adopted the alternative schedule, with over one-third of school districts in Colorado running on four-day school weeks.

The researchers have some theories on why the four-day week positively affects students, but there was not enough data to draw definitive conclusions. Walker said the team considered that teachers may be able to use different kinds of instructional methods with the alternative schedule, and that the four-day week lowered absenteeism in both students and teachers.

"My own personal hypothesis is teachers liked it so much — they were so enthusiastic about the four-day week — they did a better job,” said Walker. “There's some evidence in other labor studies that four-day work weeks enhance productivity."

Walker concluded that the study could only be applied to rural school districts so far, and that further research could help shed some light on how a four-day school week would affect urban school districts.

Source: Walker M, Anderson M. Does Shortening the School Week Impact Student Performance? Evidence From the Four-Day School Week. Education Finance and Policy. 2015.

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