The DeKalb County School District will lengthen its school days by 20 minutes October through December to make up for closing four days last week due to Hurricane Irma.
This has been done before by other metro districts. Gwinnett and Decatur extended their school days for 30 minutes in 2014 after ice and snow crippled the region and forced all schools to shut down. In 2014, DeKalb chose to add days to the end of the year to make up for that lost time.
Writing about schools after the 2014 storm that stranded motorists and school buses for up to 18 hours on paralyzed highways, I reported that days lost to weather take a toll on academic performance:
In a 2009 study, "You Can't School Mother Nature, " researchers examined how Maryland and Colorado schools fared on state assessments in years when there were frequent snow days compared to years when there were fewer. The study found the percentage of students passing math assessments falls by about one-third to one-half of a percentage point for each day school is closed.
In an academic year with five snow day closures, the study found that "the number of 3rd graders performing satisfactorily on state reading and math assessments within a school is nearly 3 percent lower than in years with no school closings. The impacts of closure are largest in mathematics and for students in lower grades."
It may be more palatable for districts to tack extra time onto the end of the year to compensate for snow days. However, that amounts to just filling seats, since there's little going on during the final days of school when testing is over and grades are submitted.
As noted in the snow day study, "Simply extending the year well after assessments are given might mean that students and teachers spend more days filling (or killing) time before the end of the year. This would make improvements in learning unlikely, and presumably make students unhappy for no good reason."
Some districts are considering adding minutes to each day to make up for the lost time, but the National Center for Time and Learning, a Boston-based nonprofit that advocates adding instructional hours for students, says that's not an effective substitute for whole class periods.
Here is the official statement from DeKalb
Making up lost instructional time is key after Hurricane Irma. DeKalb County School District to extend school days by 20 minutes from October 2 to December 20.
In order to recapture precious instructional time lost due to Hurricane Irma, DeKalb County School District will extend its school day by 20 minutes, Monday through Friday, beginning Monday, Oct. 2, 2017, through the end of the first semester on Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017.
DCSD schools and offices will also remain open on Election Day (Tuesday, Nov. 7) as the district ensures that students don’t miss out on lessons vital to their academic achievement.
Superintendent/CEO R. Stephen Green and his leadership team emphasized the need to regain opportunities for students to make progress, rather than use the four inclement weather days built into the district’s calendar.
“We did not want to simply recoup lost moments. Our most precious commodity is instructional time, and we want to make this an effective learning opportunity,” said Green. “We lost four days and we’re trying to be as creative and productive as we can about recapturing that time. Extending the school day with this schedule is the least disruptive for all parties.”
RECAP: Extended school day schedule from Monday, Oct. 2, 2017, through Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017:
• Dismissal will occur 20 minutes later than normal, Monday-Friday, each week.
• Parents will receive a notification from their campus regarding the dismissal time.
The decision to extend the school day was a collaborative effort across all DCSD divisions. In addition, Dr. Green is empowered by DCSD Board of Education Policy to make “scheduling changes to the school day because of inclement weather or other emergency conditions.”
A primary goal was not to impact Fall Break or Winter Break for both families and employees who may have commitments based on the approved school year calendar. Also, with the unpredictability of North Georgia weather in the winter, the district does not want to use all its inclement weather days before the onset of that season.
DCSD will embark on an aggressive communications campaign to keep students, parents and the community informed about how this temporary schedule change will impact student transportation, after school programs, and athletics. Those updates will be available via its website at www.dekalbschoolsga.org and through its mobile app and accounts on Facebook and Twitter.