All fifty states in the country are required to administer state assessments at the end of the school year to comply with the accountability measures laid out by the federal government. For example, all states MUST test students in English Language Arts (ELA) and math every year in grades 3-8 and also in social studies and science two times within that grade band. In addition, all states must require state tests in math and English at least one time in high school. Logically, schools want as many instructional days as possible to prepare their students for these high stakes tests that have serious implications for students, parents, buildings and districts across the United States. Given the traditional school calendar, school should be able to count on 180 days of instruction to prepare kids, right? Well, for numerous reasons, schools rarely, if ever, have even one student in attendance ready for instruction for 180 school days. In fact, when we look at all of the factors involved, the typical student is likely in their seat and available for instruction anywhere from 140 to 150 days every school year. Let’s take a look at why.
Really 180 Days?
Compounding this problem is that states impose strict “Testing Windows” in which a specific test must be administered by the school district. In other words, a state may mandate that all ELA exams are taken in a 2-3 week timeframe and districts are given a starting date for this “Window” and an ending date. Click here for Ohio’s state testing windows for the 2016-17 school year. If the window lines up perfectly, with the district’s school calendar and falls on or near the last day of school, instructional time will be maximized. However, this is far from the case. In Ohio for example, the 2016-17 testing “Window” for ELA is March 13-April 14. Remember, for every day the “Window” is closed prior to the last day of school is a day of instruction lost in preparation for that exam. Most schools in Ohio have started their school year as early as possible to leverage instructional days the best that they can. This has resulted in a mid-August first day of classes and the last day of school falling the Friday before Memorial Day. It hasn’t helped much. In a district with this ending date, teachers lose approximately 28 days of instruction to prepare kids for success on ELA assessments. Don’t forget the 7 lost instructional days noted above that simply adds to the lost time. So you thought we had 180 days? For ELA preparation it’s more like 147 days for the average kid when one subtracts the 7 days illustrated above and the 28 days left in the school year after the close of the ELA “Testing Window”. For the other state assessments the window ends later. In fact, for math, social studies and science the “Testing Window” in Ohio ends May 12 for the 2016-17 school year. So kids only lose about 14 instructional days for exams in those disciplines. As a result kids have about 161 school days of actual instruction to prepare for those tests.But wait, there is more….actually less! These numbers only count for kids with perfect attendance!
Attendance and Other Pulls Out of the Classroom
It’s Worse for Some Students
What’s the Answer?
The best answer to maximize the instructional days that students are actually available to learn in a given year requires placing the needs of the students above the needs of the adults. Currently, we have this backward. First, we need to schedule state tests so they are taken at or very near the end of the school year so that every single day possible that school is scheduled can be utilized to its fullest potential. Closing a testing window in mid-April when there are five weeks of school left makes no sense whatsoever. If the rationale is getting everything graded so we can get the Local Report Card (LRC) released in mid-August, then make the release of the LRC in mid-October. If the U.S Department of Education is driving the timeline, they need to move the timeframe back to make this simple and sensible adjustment. Secondly, we need to not “give away” instructional days every year to teacher meetings and parent teacher conferences. School administrators and unions need to get together to figure this one out within their own collective bargaining agreements. But lets be serious, there is no student instruction happening at teacher meetings or parent teacher conferences. So, let’s not say that there is and give these days back to the kids. Third, individual schools must enact building procedures that make “instructional time sacred time”. By this I mean that the “administrivia” of the school like assemblies, field trips, guidance visits and the list goes on, must be re-thought so that instructional time is maximized. After all, once it is lost it cannot be made-up. Finally, Ohio has taken a great step forward to address chronic absenteeism with the passage of HB 410 AND including this as a non-academic measure on the LRC which will help bring this issue to the fore.