, Newburyport, MA

December 3, 2007

Longer school days weighed; New study shows test scores jump with more learning time

By Katie Curley , Staff Writer

NEWBURYPORT - In the coming years, area public school students could be spending an additional 300 hours in the classroom each year.

A state Department of Education report on Friday showed that lengthening the school day by 25 percent at 18 schools around the state is producing impressive results on MCAS scores.

The districts in Boston, Cambridge and Fall River where the schoool day is 25 percent longer boasted a 10.8 percentage point increase in MCAS English testing scores. In math, the average increase was 7.2 percentage points, and science scores increased 4.7 percentage points, according to statistics from Massachusetts 2020, a nonprofit that seeks to expand educational and economic opportunities for students and families.

As schools work to comply with the No Child Left Behind Act, which requires all students to score at a proficient or better level on the MCAS by 2014, lengthening the school day is an option that will be closely examined locally.

"Expanded learning is an interesting concept as more and more is asked of us as educators on a federal and state level," said Peter Hoyt, principal of the Cashman Elementary School in Amesbury. "I think it may not be a bad idea over time."

Though Newburyport has no plans to create a longer school day, Newburyport High School Michael Parent believes it may be the way of the future. Parent said that, over the next two years, he will be looking closely at how the schools can get the most out of each school day.

"One of the charges I was given from Superintendent Kevin Lyons was to look at the schedule, which is block scheduling," Parent said. "Part of this will be looking into the school day."

Amesbury Elementary is in session from 8:30 a.m. until 3 p.m. A longer school day would mean more time for instruction as well as an opportunity for more collaboration and conversation among teachers on best practices and curriculum development, Hoyt said.

Longer days are producing good results elsewhere, as well. At Seabrook Elementary in New Hampshire, school days were lengthened by 30 minutes last year, and already school officials have seen better grades and test scores. The extra time during the day has allowed the school system to offer band and chorus classes during the day rather than as an after-school program.

"I've observed the Saltonstall School in Salem, which is a year-round school, and it's very intriguing," Hoyt said. "A longer day provides more breathing room each school day and throughout the year."

Hoyt also noted some Midwestern schools already have longer, year-round school and it is working.

"As educators, students, staff and faculty are asked to learn and accommodate even more in the school setting, it is something that bears consideration in all communities."

Expanded learning time has become a hot topic in Massachusetts education as more and more schools move toward longer school days with increased learning time.

The DOE report showed that for the 10,000 students across the commonwealth enrolled in the 18 schools that have implemented longer school days, the plan appears to be working.

The year-long survey has only been done by Massachusetts 2020, but the DOE is planning on conducting its own analysis in the coming weeks and will present its findings in January, Jonathan Considine, a spokesman for the DOE, said.

In October the Board of Education awarded grants of up to $11,000 each to 28 school districts that applied for the expanded learning time planning grants. To qualify for the grants, which are given out annually, districts must submit their preliminary implementation plans by January.

On Friday, Gov. Deval Patrick along with school officials, policy makers, state and federal leaders gathered at the University of Massachusetts Boston Campus to discuss the results of a study conducted this past year.