Extra days pay off with more learning, data show

By Jim Foster
Test scores from low-achieving students who attended additional school days indicate that the extra classroom instruction is yielding stronger academic achievement, according to data presented at tonight’s meeting of the Beaufort County Board of Education.
The district’s Extended Learning Time initiative provides 20 instructional days more than the regular 180-day school calendar.  The program focuses on students who have not yet met grade-level standards or course requirements.  Enrichment programs in academics and the arts are also provided.
District officials told board members tonight that when test scores of academically at-risk elementary and middle school students enrolled in the ELT program were compared with average scores districtwide, achievement gaps in reading were reduced in every grade but kindergarten last school year.  In math, gaps were reduced in six grades between kindergarten and grade eight.
“These results show that additional resources help when applied creatively and with a concentrated focus,” said Superintendent Valerie Truesdale.
Originally targeted at students in grades three through eight, ELT was expanded to include students in grades K-2 who needed extra help in reading and math and students in grades 9 and 10 who failed to meet state standards on the state’s high school exit exam and on high school end-of-course tests in English and Algebra 1.
At the high school level, district officials reported tonight that students enrolled in ELT saw significantly better passing rates on end-of-course exams in 2010-11 than in 2009-10, when the program was expanded to include high-schoolers.  First-time passing rates on high school exit exams were slightly lower.
ELT students attend five additional days of classes before the regular school year begins to “jump-start” the year, a week at the end of the first and third quarters to catch up on classwork, and an extra week in June to make up work.  Teachers focus on building reading and math skills, study habits and character.
In a related initiative, three schools have 200-day calendars for all students due to high concentrations of students not yet meeting state standards.  These “Accelerated Learning Schools” are Whale Branch and St. Helena elementary schools and Whale Branch Middle School.
Extended learning programs have been funded with federal stimulus dollars that are nearly spent, officials said, meaning that they will not continue next year unless additional grant funds are obtained.
Truesdale said the district would investigate other options — including grants — to continue funding the initiatives.
“Our focus now is on making this fourth year as productive as possible,” she said.  “At the same time, we’ll be looking at different ways of funding extended learning opportunities for students who need extra support.”

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