Monday, 1 July 2013

Could a longer school day raise student performance?

Could a longer school day raise student performance?
Eleven years ago, a school in Massachusetts was on the verge of closure. It was failing to meet the annual progress targets expected of it by the district and state.

According to their Director of Instruction, they had some of the lowest performing test scores in the city and a declining enrolment of new students.

They knew something had to be done so, between the senior management team and established course leaders, they agreed on an expanded learning programme which would see the length of the school day extended.

The expanded learning time was introduced for three key research-based practices:
  • Enrichment/extra-curricular activities
  • Targeted academic support
  • Professional learning
The purpose was to ultimately offer students greater time to concentrate on both their areas of academic concern and also on their extra-curricular interests and passions.

The team wanted to find out what students could do if they were given the power to decide on which extra-curricular subjects they took.

Since 2006 when the expanded learning time was first introduced, Edwards Middle School has found that the percentage of students passing state exams has grown dramatically by 252% across three core subjects (Maths, English Language and Arts and Science) and suspensions have decreased by 37%.

How it works

On Monday through to Thursday the school starts at 7am and closes at 4.30pm and Friday is a half day with professional development taking place in the afternoon.

Through a normal class day (Monday to Thursday) students have four core 60-minute classes and then the expanded learning section of the day begins (1.30pm−4.30pm). Every student will go through a one-hour academic intervention course followed by a two-hour enrichment (elective) programme.

Getting the most from each learner

  1. Established course leaders review student performance data as well as feedback from both teachers and students
  2. They then consider each student’s progression against a set of clear KPIs to identify areas of underperformance and to establish a strategy to push learners to the next level.

Within the academic intervention classes, students are able to spend time with teachers, receiving one-to-one mentoring support. Each group is made up of similarly performing students.

Learners at Edwards Middle School also have a unique opportunity where they are given the choice to pick which enrichment classes they want to attend in the afternoons. These classes are used to support students to find their own talents, work with peers and be able to express themselves creatively.
The enrichment programme includes activities such as street dance, step, musical theatre, several arts-based classes and a wide range of athletic courses.

Students are encouraged to express themselves to discover their own passions and to have fun doing it.

For many of you reading this, extending the school day could be perceived as a dramatic change that would face contention from students and parents. Yet while it is unlikely to be a popular intervention strategy, for teachers at Edwards Middle School the programme of change has strengthened the sense of community within the school. Students feel empowered by having more choice and responsibility over their own classes and, by giving them more opportunity to excel, performance is not just improved in their academic work but also in their social skills. They feel safe and appreciate the greater time teachers spend with them.


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