MCPS Stands Behind Test of Longer School Year After D.C. Program Fails

City schools demonstrated little progress in preventing learning loss during summer break

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PHOTO VIA MONTGOMERY COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS

After a three-year trial run, public schools in neighboring Washington, D.C., are ditching a program providing longer academic years, citing a lack of progress in negating “summer learning loss.”

But Montgomery County’s education leaders remain unfazed and plan to move forward with a similar plan at two Silver Spring elementary schools.

The D.C. school system invested $7.5 million in the program, which added 20 school days to the academic calendar at 13 “low-performing schools,” incorporating shorter, frequent breaks during the school year.

Data does not show “significant academic gains” and caused staff burnout and attendance challenges for families with children in both traditional and extended-year schools, the D.C. school district announced Thursday.

While the Montgomery County program looks similar on its face, school officials say they expect more rigorous curriculum and targeted use of extra school days to address the specific needs of students who are more apt to fall behind during school breaks.

“I think we’re looking at doing something different enough and a differently styled program with more days specific to instruction of the kids,” Montgomery school spokesman Derek Turner said.

The Montgomery County school board in December approved “innovative” school calendars at Arcola and Roscoe R. Nix elementary schools in Silver Spring to increase the academic year by 30 days and will invest about $1 million in the program’s pilot year.

With the new calendar, students at the two schools will report for classes on July 8, 2019 and be dismissed for summer break on June 11, 2020. For other students, classes typically begin after Labor Day.

The calendar will largely follow the traditional Montgomery County Public Schools calendar, observing school closures required by the state on 14 dates throughout the year, and with winter and spring breaks aligning in both calendars.

The goal is to increase academic performance at schools with large numbers of students from low-income households by providing more instructional time.

Both Roscoe R. Nix and Arcola elementary schools have majority-minority populations and more than 70 percent of students receiving free or reduced price school meals, making them top candidates for the program. Arcola serves students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, while Roscoe R. Nix has students enrolled in pre-k through second grade.

“I can’t speak for the whole board, but for me, I stand behind us taking the opportunity to see if we can make some real progress for our students,” said District 2 school board member Rebecca Smondrowski. “We’re trying to look at innovative ways to approach opportunity and achievement gaps our students have and this is a way to start conservatively and see if there are positive results and go from there.”

Research indicates students with continuous learning are more likely to retain information, having the largest impact on students with special needs and English language learners. A study by the Education Resources Information Center says children from low-income families are less likely to have access to high-quality reading materials during long breaks from school and, thus, are more likely to exhibit summer learning loss. Experts recommend changes in teaching strategy accompany longer school calendars and that about 35 days must be added to make an impact on achievement.

Turner said the school board will discuss ways to enhance the curriculum at Arcola and Roscoe R. Nix to make the best use of the additional instructional days at an upcoming meeting.

“Like (Superintendent) Dr. Smith often says, time is critical but not sufficient, it’s how you use that time that generates results,” Turner said. “It’s exciting and a whole new way of thinking about increasing opportunities for schools impacted by poverty and making this a program really meaningful for the kids who participate.”

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com

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