Montana State University

MSU professor finds positive academic performance in four-day school week for elementary school students

November 5, 2015 -- Jenny Lavey, MSU News Service

Mark Anderson, assistant professor in the MSU Department of Agricultural Economics and Economics, recently co-authored a study that found a positive correlation between a four-day school week with the reading and math skills of fourth and fifth grader students. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.

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A Montana State University economics professor has found the academic performance of elementary students is positively affected by an increasingly popular four-day school week in rural school districts.

Mark Anderson, assistant professor in the MSU Department of Agricultural Economics and Economics, recently co-authored a study showing a positive correlation between a four-day school week and the reading and math skills of fourth and fifth graders. 

Anderson and Mary Beth Walker, professor and dean with the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University, examined elementary school test score data on the Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) from 2001-2010. CSAP tests are given to elementary, middle and high school students in Colorado public schools twice a year, and they test proficiency in reading, writing and math.

Anderson and Walker reviewed reading scores of fourth grade students and math scores of fifth grade students across Colorado's rural school districts. Of these districts, 15 opted to switch to a four-day week. The researchers found the percent of students scoring either proficient or with advanced proficiency in reading and math went up after the adoption of the four-day schedule. Student scores were higher than their peers in school districts who remained on the five-day schedule.

What they found is that the academic performance of students was not compromised during a four-day schedule week. In fact, the data showed very strong evidence that math scores went up and some evidence that reading scores went up as well.

“We didn’t find a negative correlation between the performance of elementary school students and the four day-schedule,” Anderson said. “Just about every state has school districts either adopting or thinking about a four-day school week, something that is considered during tough budget times in public schools, especially during and following the recession. One of the biggest worries is that the shortened schedule would compromise student performance, which makes the results even more interesting and all the more policy relevant.”

Anderson added the study was not reflective of national large urban or charter school districts, as the data provided from Colorado public schools mostly encompassed smaller, rural districts. Colorado was a lucky sample site, Anderson said, as the state has seen a healthy mix between districts who have chosen to remain on the traditional five-day schedule and those that have changed to a four-day schedule, in conjunction with detailed, standardized CSAP scores.

According to Anderson, many school districts across the country, particularly those in rural areas, are opting for a four-day school week as a cost savings measure on transportation, facility and instructional costs. Some districts have reported savings within individual budgets, though little was known about the impact of a shortened schedule on student learning.

“We started looking into the literature to see if there were any rigorous, empirical evaluations of the four-day school week, and we found there weren’t any,” Anderson said. “There was a lot of literature on yea-round calendars and block scheduling in high schools, but nothing on the four-day school week and academic outcomes, so we thought it would be a nice contribution to school policy literature, particularly at a time when a large majority of schools are considering a four-day schedule.”

Anderson said he hopes these findings – one of the only four-day school week studies grounded in rigorous data analysis – might impact educational policy decisions as more and more public school districts look to tighten budgets.

“What’s appealing about this is that you can apply this to many different types of policy changes in different contexts,” he said.  “I hope the data affects districts in the sense that it opens up the discussion and allows for more research-based policy,” he said.

The study’s findings have been published in Parenting magazine and the Huffington Post and were featured on the Today Show and Fox News.  A full version of the article can be found online at http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1162/EDFP_a_00165#.VgxBfZcXE6E.

Contact: Mark Anderson, dwight.anderson@montana.edu or (406) 994-7773