What does the
research say about the benefits of Year-Round School to "at risk"
20 October 1998
Christopher Newland, Ph.D.303
Bibb AvenueAuburn, Alabama,
of EducationAuburn City
Schools855 E. Samford
AveAuburn, AL 36830.
Dear Members of the Board of Education,
In October of 1998, Auburn City Schools
(ACS) distributed to parents, teachers, and others associated with ACS a report
called "Exploration of An Alternative Calender." In that and in other
discussions of the year-round calender, the leadership of ACS has said that
this alternative calender is being considered to assist the at-risk child in
the ACS, citing research on year-round calenders in support of this claim. The
relevant sentences (with the footnotes and bolding as in the original) from the
ACS report "Exploration of An Alternative Calender" read as follows:
"[T]he majority of studies do show
that YRS benefits the at-risk
at risk student is benefited by the restructuring of the 180 school days
(Auburn City Schools calender is 175 student
The two superscripts refer to nine
studies offered in support of this statement. The citations are incomplete but
I believe that I have found all nine among the materials made available by ACS
in the library. I have read these studies and offer my conclusions here.
One study (Cooper) investigates
academic loss during the summer vacation and finds that some students gain,
some lose, but most show little change between Spring and Fall. This report
applies only if we are considering reducing summer vacation to zero. The
authors of this paper write that their report cannot be applied to alternative
school calenders, so this report says nothing about reducing summer vacation
from 11 weeks to, say, 7 weeks. Four studies (Campbell, Greenfield, Haenn,
Peltier) report no statistically significant effects of year-round calenders on
reading, math, or other academically relevant tasks. One of these (Greenfield)
did not appear to involve at-risk students and the relevance of the others to
at-risk children varies. One study (Roby) compared one year-round school
against one traditional-calender school and found a difference in math scores.
While the effect was attributed to the calender, it is just as likely that one
school had a better math teacher than the other. No details about the
proportion of at-risk children were presented in that study. One citation
(Kneese and Knight) concerns a two-page transcript of a paper read at a
professional meeting. It appears sophisticated and solid methodologically, but
little-to-no information is provided about demographics or interventions that
accompanied the year-round calender. It is simply too brief to evaluate or to
use for such an important decision. One study (Curry) is a detailed report of
12 elementary schools in Austin Texas. At these schools, 50 to 85% of students
were Hispanic. Benefits were reported in Hispanic students, for many of whom
English was a second language. Effects in African-American or White students
were more variable across the schools studied, but there were more increases
than decreases in test scores
(however, the results of this study have recently been questioned because of
test score fabrication by the school system. See note below under review of
In some cases increases in average test scores were accompanied by declines in
the percent of students passing these basic-skills test. This is difficult to
reconcile, but it could suggest that good students got better and struggling
students struggled more in some subjects. The authors noted that the year-round
calender was so disruptive in the middle school that it should be abandoned.
One study (Shields and LaRocque) is a literature review conducted for the
British Columbia Ministry of Education. It says that there is evidence that
at-risk students benefit, and points out that the reason for the benefit could
be concomitant reforms, and not the change in the calender
Much of the recent literature was evidently not available at the time of the
writing; many of the studies mentioned in ACS discussions were not included in
Detailed summaries are attached, listed
in alphabetical order by first author. I write to point out that the evidence
in favor of academic benefits of a year-round calender is not there. What
evidence is available implies that there will be none.
Thank you for your attention to this
rather long letter.
Christopher Newland, Ph.D.
Summary of Studies
"Exploration of An
by Auburn City Schools
to Support the Claim that Year-Round Schools Help At-Risk Children.
Summaries prepared by
Christopher Newland, Ph.D. 19-October-1998
This describes a 45-15, single track
YRS with 60 second-grade Chapter 1 (Title 1) students in the YRS. 30 students
from 4 traditional schools matched by "home school attendance data."
This was done in the Carrrollton City Schools, (OH). Statistics were done by
t tests. It compared test
scores with the perceptions of students, parents, teachers and administrators.
On the objective measures, there was no
significant difference in 1) achievement gains, 2) absences, 3) promotion
rates, 4) reading level or 5) books read. The number of books read came closest
to "statistically significant"; the YRS students read
books than the traditional year students.
On subjective measures, parents,
students, and administrators overwhelmingly thought that the YRS helped improve
basic skills, and administrators also thought it helped attendance. The
assessments of teachers, using subjective measures, came closest to the
conclusions derived from the objective tests.
This was not an empirical study, but a
review of several empirical studies, one a very large federal one. No study
reviewed involved an alternative year calender. The studies compared the
performance of children on different tests just before summer vacation with
their performance when they return in the Fall.
Any conclusions can only apply
to a proposal to reduce summer vacation to
The analysis is rather involved, but the results can be summarized.
Some children return to school from the
summer break knowing more than they did the previous spring. These usually are
the children who take advantage of the summer by reading, attending camps, etc.
Some children return in the Fall knowing less. For most, however, the loss is
pretty close to zero. The overall effect is usually small, and depends on
subject matter and economic advantage. A "stem-and-leaf" diagram (a
type of data display taught in first-year Algebra in ACS) shows that the bulk
of the distribution of effects lies very close to zero, and that the mean is
affected by points at the extremes of the distribution.
Concepts, reading skills, math
concepts, grammar, and similar things
to do something") are relatively unaffected by the summer break. This form
of knowledge is akin to knowing how to ride a bicycle or how to carry out
well-practiced arithmetic tasks ("once you've learned to ride a bicycle. .
. ."). Computation, spelling, and science facts showed some loss. This
type of learning is sometimes referred to as "knowing that," as in
knowing that WWII began in 1941. This might involve foreign language
vocabulary, arithmetic facts (e.g., 9 X 7=63) and similar things. The study
says nothing about when forgetting occurs.
Perhaps most important is their
conclusion that children who have the opportunity to do things during the
summer improve on tests of some subjects and return better off than in the
Spring. Those children who do not have these advantages either show no
improvement or, in some cases, loss.
While there is some discussion of
alternative calenders, the authors point out that this report does not apply to
claims of benefits obtained by these calenders:
The present synthesis does not assess
whether alternative calenders, such as those that include the present number of
school days but distribute shorter and more frequent vacations throughout the
year, are actually more effective than the present calender. (P 264, top)
We suspect that there is much less
research on these (weekends, spring break, winter break) intervals. (P. 264,
relating to the Austin school system study reviewed
In an item on National
Public Radio's Sunday Edition (25 October 1998) it was reported that Austin
(Texas) Independent School System fabricated the test scores of Hispanic and
African American students. The tests fabricated, the TAAS (achievement tests
used by the state of Texas) are used to rate schools and districts, carry great
weight in policy decisions, are noticed by businesses considering relocation,
and by house hunters looking for school districts. In all cases of fabrication,
low scores were made higher, apparently in an effort to prevent a school from
failing to meet state standards.
When I reviewed the
nine studies cited in "Fact Sheet 2" to support the claim that YRS
improves the scores of at-risk students, only one citation (Curry
supported that claim. That one was a long (greater than 80 page), detailed
report describing the scores of Hispanic and African American students on the
TAAS in the Austin Independent School District. We now know that those scores
are tainted by this fabrication.
This summarizes the experience of 12
elementary schools in Austin Texas that went to a single-track year-round
school. The accompanying report is greater than 130 pages long. The authors
conclude that YRS was beneficial in these elementary schools, whose
demographics were very different from Auburn's, but that it was so disruptive
at the middle school that it should not be continued there. YRS was not imposed
in isolation, but accompanied by other reforms that varied across the different
schools. Overall the results would be encouraging to people in similar school
districts, as more improvements than declines were noted. Some details about
this report are important:
This report describes a rural,
agricultural Hawaii school district located in a very supportive community
whose children generally test above Hawaii averages. They went to single-track
YRS voluntarily. Both pretesting and post-testing were performed, in some cases
for a few years before and after the change. They had an intersession program
that was popular and well attended. Some data were offered on standardized
tests (Standard Achievement Test) and a locally developed test (no details
offered). Little data were presented on demographics, and nothing was said
about at-risk children. No evidence for academic change was found and the plan
was expensive, even if popular:
"One major expectation--that
student academic performance would improve--did not materialize in all the ways
anticipated." (p. 255.)
"Results did not demonstrate
significant score increase across the years in any of the content areas.
Neither did the scores of a single cohort of students, tracked for two years
before and then again after YRE implementation suggest improved academic
performance across time." (P. 256) [It further said that sporadic
improvements were seen on a locally developed test, but no details were
The first year YRS was implemented, the
system experienced a 20% increase in budget. This declined to 4% and then -1%
over the next two years, while other state systems increased. The overall
increase over three years was 10%. " . . . the YRE program remained more
expensive to operate." (Page 259).
This describes two year-round
elementary (K-5) schools in the Durham Public School district. Attending the
YRS was voluntary. Intersession remediation and enrichment were offered and
were voluntary. Between the two schools the demographics were: 43% African
American and 53% White; 15.5% were low socioeconomic status and 84.5% were not.
About 10 - 15% of students attended intersession. Only 25% - 50% of those
attending intersession were free/reduced lunches. The small number of at-risk
children attending intersession remediation was discussed as a problem.
Since this was a voluntary plan, three
groups of students could be identified for study: 1) students who chose to
stay in the YRS (N=905, 2)
students who transferred in
from outside the attendance zone (N=115), and 3) those who
to a partner traditional year school (N=159).
They did a pretest in May 1994 and a
post-test in May 1995. All
Even those who moved out to a
traditional year calender.
While there is much discussion of impressions of how the YRS helped, there was
no statistically significant effect of "group." That is, it did not
matter whether the students stayed, moved in, or moved out.
This is a 2-page transcript of a paper
read at the American Educational Research Association. It is very brief and
evidently has not been published in the open literature. It describes ten
"dual-track" schools (grades 4, 5, 6) in an urban school district
"in the Southwest." In the dual track school, some students are on
"year-round" and some are on a traditional school calender (TSC). It
is not clear how this decision was made for any particular student. Each
student on the YRS calender had two matched students on the YRS calender: one
matched for score on a reading test and another matched for score on a
mathematics test. As described, the matching of students and statistical
analyses described sound sophisticated and competently performed. YRS generally
outperformed TSC students, and the effects were also seen in at-risk students.
No details were provided about other interventions accompanying YRS, about how
students elected to go on YRS calender in the first place, or the makeup of the
student population. The difficulty with this study is that it is very brief,
unpublished, and does not provide the information required to determine what
caused the effects reported.
In a recently published review of
research on year-round calenders (Kneese, C.C. Review of research on student
learning in year-round education.
Journal of Research and
Development in Education. 1996,
60-71), the senior author, concluded that "practitioners moving toward
year-round education have little basis to expect that in and of itself YRE will
significantly accelerate achievement unless a dedicated movement to educational
reform, including factors such as utilization of the intersession for
remediation and curricula changes is accomplished." Kneese also noted that
some benefits attributed to year-round calenders could represent a
"Hawthorne Effect." This is a sort of institutional placebo effect.
When an institution experiences a change, even one as innocuous as a change in
the type of lighting, there is a transient effect on performance and then
things return to the previous status.
This is a narrative review of some of
the advantages and disadvantages of year-round schools. The emphasis is on
multitrack plans. The following two quotes are relevant:
"Studies have indicated that there
is no significant difference in achievement (as measured by standardized tests)
between students on a year-round schedule and those on a traditional nine month
schedule" (p. 122, 3 references cited in support).
"One of the advantages often cited
for year-round education is the need for less review time because of shorter
vacation. For all but the slow students, the four to six weeks of review in the
traditional school is wasted time" (p. 122). The support for this last
claim is a single citation to Ballinger, the founder of an advocacy group
called "National Association for Year-Round Education."
This is a brief report (4 pages) of
some 6th graders from two schools in West Carrollton City School District. One
school was on YRS, the other was not. There were 74 students from one school
and 65 from the other. The author, a principal in the district, asserted that
demographically the schools were the same and representative of other schools
in W. Carrollton. Nothing was said about at-risk. A comparison between only
these two schools was conducted. The YRS school had been on that calender for
many years so pretesting was not possible. Other comparison schools might have
been examined, but were not.
The students in the YRS school did
better on math and reading than the students in the traditional year school. It
was said, without supporting documentation, that the boys in the YRS school did
better on reading than those in the traditional school. Otherwise, there were
no gender differences.
The YRS school had been on it since
70's. This is the only YRS in the district, and it did so b/c of overcrowding.
This suggests that it is multitrack, but the report does not say one way or the
It is impossible to conclude that the
difference is due to the school's calender. One of the schools may have had a
better math teacher than the other.
This is a literature review of many
effects of year-round calenders, and academic benefits comprise a small portion
of the report. The statement is made that there is "compelling
evidence" that there are positive effects in at-risk children. As the
authors point out, it is quite possible, if not likely, that the improvements
are associated with concomitant reforms such as remediation, smaller classes,
and other interventions. The review does not mention the recent studies
described above. In fact, the empirical literature that evidently was available
when this was written must have been pretty small, as few of the studies
described in ACS deliberations were mentioned.