Thursday, March 12, 2020

AV #207 - Alarming Results in Year One: District 27J Schools’ shift to 4-day school week brings drop in academic performance

A chance for other districts to learn what NOT to do if they want better academic results

“We’re number one!” It is often a cheer. A cry of joy and pride.

   “Colorado now leads the nation in the number of districts that have moved to four-day school weeks — 111 out of 178 districts in Colorado.[i] … The vast majority are rural — and many of them poor — but also include Pueblo and Brighton, which with 19,000 students and 26 schools is the largest district in the country to hold classes four days instead of five. 
   “The trend has ramped up in recent years, with 27 Colorado districts switching all or some of their schools to four-day weeks in the last four years. The number has doubled in Colorado since 2005.”
More from The Colorado Sun (Aug. 2019) in Addendum A.
But in public education, to be first in the country in the percentage of school districts on a four-day week –  Colorado has no cause to celebrate. We must ask what this says about us. About public support for education. About the claim that this change is “good for the district,” even if it means eliminating 25 days of school.[ii] Our geography —the long bus rides to school, away games, doctor’s appointments—has been a plausible rationale for this policy in small rural districts. And yet this was not why 27J Schools and Pueblo 60 joined the trend last year. A close look at the results of year one for 27J Schools reveals why Colorado being #1 in this category is, as I see it, terrible news. I hope the data here encourages our legislators to emulate New Mexico (see Addendum B) and forbid any district from following in 27J Schools’ steps – until we know more.

I was disheartened to read The Colorado Sun’s in-depth series last August on the four day-week. We heard painfully little on the issue of whether the move has proved beneficial for academic performance in over 100 districts. The Sun’s headlines hinted at its … surprise? Or was it an admonishment? (Emphasis mine) 

         Aug. 27, 2019 - "Colorado now has more school districts on four-day weeks than any place in the nation - with little research on the benefits"
            Money moved more than 100 districts to forge ahead with the largely untested strategy. Parents and teachers learned to love it, but nobody knows its impact on kids and learning.[iii]

        Aug. 29, 2019 – “Colorado made kindergarten a priority. But when it comes to four-day school weeks, lawmakers don’t see a problem.”
While many are uncomfortable with the trend of districts adopting four-day school weeks, it receives surprisingly little attention in a state where education has long been a top political issue[iv]

I am convinced it is a problem, and that we must pay attention. One positive (I guess) is that with a large district (enrollment in 27J exceeds 19,000) on the four-day week, we now have results for thousands of students, unlike what our small rural districts (N<16) can tell us.[v] The data leads me to raise this warning. The next two pages present the figures from the Colorado Department of Education’s School Performance Framework of 27J: I compare results from the last year of its five-day program (2017-18) with the first year of the four-day calendar (2018-19). We see the declining scores. We discover the greatest harm is done to its most vulnerable students. (Wasn’t 27J Schools aware of the potential impact of the change on these boys and girls? See Addenda A - C.) CDE’s data shows the decline in most every category for 27J students who are English Learners, Free/Reduced Lunch Eligible, Minority Students, and Students with Disabilities. Note too the achievement gap increasing. And observe where the gaps reach well into the double digits.

School District 27J - Scores and ratings from Final District Performance Frameworks, 2018 and 2019[vi]

Double-digit figures highlighted in yellow and declining scores in column on right – all mine.  

Decline from ’18 to ’19
Page 1
% pts earned

Academic Achievement
Academic Growth
Postsecondary & Workforce Readiness
Summary of Ratings by EMH level

E - Academic Achievement
E- Academic Growth
M - Academic Achievement
M - Academic Growth –
In ELA, UP 5 pctl. pts. for white students; DOWN 2 pctl. pts. for Hispanic students. GAP WIDENS.
H - Academic Achievement
H - Academic Growth
Rating: Meets
Rating: Approaching
H – Postsecondary & Workforce


Academic Achievement -
Mean Scale Score

CMAS-ELA (grades 3-5)

English Learners
Free/Reduced Price Lunch Eligible
Minority Students
Students with Disabilities
CMAS – Math (grades 3-5)

English Learners
Free/Reduced Price Lunch Eligible
Minority Students
Students with Disabilities
CMAS – Science (grade 5)

English Learners
Free/Reduced Price Lunch Eligible
Minority Students
Students with Disabilities (142 students)

Academic Growth
Median Growth Percentile / Rate


English Learners
Free/Reduced Price Lunch Eligible
Minority Students
Students with Disabilities
CMAS - Math

English Learners
Free/Reduced Price Lunch Eligible
Rating: Meets
Rating: Approaching
Minority Students
Rating: Meets
Rating: Approaching
Students with Disabilities (253 students)

Decline from ’18 to ’19
Academic Achievement
Mean Scale Score

CMAS – Math (grades 6-8)

English Learners
Free/Reduced Price Lunch Eligible
Minority Students
Students with Disabilities


SAT – Reading & Writing (gr. 11)

English Learners
Free/Reduced Price Lunch Eligible
Minority Students
Students with Disabilities
SAT- Math

English Learners
Free/Reduced Price Lunch Eligible
Minority Students
Students with Disabilities

CMAS - Mean Scale Score - ELA (gr. 3-5)
GAP WIDENS – 2018 to 2019
Elementary -    White (1,933 students)*

                       Hispanic (1,812 students)*
From 13.7 to 17.5

CMAS – MATH (gr. 3-5)

                             White (1,934 students)*

                         Hispanic (1,819 students)*
From 15.4 to 17.9

CMAS - SCIENCE (grade 5)

                        White (645 students)*

                        Hispanic (610 students)*
From 41.9 to 63.9

SCIENCE: That achievement gap in grade 5 widens even more in the upper grades. Why? Less time for science? Fewer labs? Note the severe drop for both White and Hispanic students in grades 8 and 11.
Page 3 - Student Groups
CMAS -Mean Scale Score-SCIENCE (gr. 8)
Decline from ’18 to ‘19
English Learners
Free/Reduced Price Lunch Eligible
Minority Students
Students with Disabilities

 Page 8                   White (523 students)*
GAP WIDENS – 2018 to 2019
Hispanic (643 students)*
From 56.6 to 66.8

Page 4 - Student Groups
CMAS–Mean Scale Score-SCIENCE (gr. 11)
Decline from ’18 to ‘19
English Learners
Free/Reduced Price Lunch Eligible
Minority Students
Students with Disabilities

Page 9                   White (220 students)*
GAP WIDENS - 2018 to 2019
                Hispanic (201 students)*
From 53.7 to 71.8
*Number of students taking the test in 2019. Numbers were too small for other student groups to be meaningful.

This should be a red flag to any district exploring a 4-day week. Need more evidence? See the dismal growth scores in 27J and Pueblo 60 - Addendum D.

In spite of this, we recently heard an alarming report on TV - FOX31 DENVER. Reporter Michael Konopasek told viewers of the positive results from a survey 27J conducted on the four-day week: a 78% favorable response from nearly 5,000 educators, families, and community members. He concluded on this optimistic note, which – in light of what the 2018-19 results tell us – is dumbfounding.

And school leaders here say that other districts in Colorado have floated the idea of 4-day school weeks and could learn from this district’s experience.”[vii] (Feb. 6, 2020)

   “The district had hoped to improve its standing to an accredited level school — the second-highest level in Colorado — when statewide scores were released this year by the state education department, but 27J fell short. It remains on an improvement plan.
   “’If scores were to drop immensely, obviously that is something we would have to look at, but we are not expecting that to happen,’ said Tracy Rudnick, the district’s public information officer. ‘It’s going to take a couple of years to really create the concrete data.’”
                                         The Colorado Sun, Aug. 27, 2019[viii]
I hope they will - and learn what not to do.                                                      

That district survey, may I add, merely asked about the change to the schools’ start times and the move to the four-day week. To be sure, the far majority are supportive. Students too, based on the Adams County Youth Initiative survey: 84% of the student preferred the four-day week to five days. (Did anyone expect they’d say otherwise?)

But “Do we like it?” is not the important question. This change is far more serious—and consequential. Thoughtful educators in 27 Schools will first want the school board and parents to ask: “Is this change proving beneficial for student learning?”  

In the fall of 2018, as this new schedule went into effect, district spokeswoman Tracy Rudnick told KUNC News: “The district is happy with the new schedule … and plans to reevaluate the program in three years.” Last summer she spoke of “what if” scores dropped (see box). Well, it has already happened. I shared my concerns with her, but “one year’s data doesn’t make a trend,” she insisted, and (quite righty) reminded me that there are many factors that can lead to a decline in student performance. “We’re going to look at things,” she said, but for now, “we have no intention of switching back to five days.”

In presenting its “Four-Day School Week Information,” the district states:

   “27J Schools must be increasingly strategic in funding the priorities that matter the most for our students and their learning. In 27J Schools, our core mission is to prepare students with the necessary skills and competencies that will enable a future far beyond graduation.
   “A prepared tomorrow begins with the best teaching and learning today. Implementing the four-day student contact week is part of a long term plan to invest in the Thinking Classroom today to prepare our students for life and a career into 2038.”[ix] (Emphasis mine)

The school board for 27J must ask—as any good board would—if its decision to drop one school day per week advances its own goals. What if it leaves students even less well prepared “with the necessary skills…”?

And Colorado must ask what we can learn from other states that have tried the four-day week—albeit less aggressively than we have done. See Addendum B. Perhaps one place to start: why not follow New Mexico’s example and put a moratorium on allowing any new district to take this drastic step?

More evidence is needed, I know that. Sure, let’s see what year two looks like in 27J—and in Pueblo 60: results for their 30,000-plus students will tell us a lot. But what we know today compels us to ask: Is this the best we can do? To have most districts, now even urban districts, offer just four days of school each week? We all want Colorado schools to be #1 – in something we can be proud of. A shorter week is not it.

Addendum A – What we don’t know
From The Colorado Sun series on the 4-day school week – Aug. 2019  (Bold mine)

(Aug. 27) “What researchers don’t know is how it affects children’s academic achievement over the long term, and as experts across the country try to get a handle on that question, they are raising alarm about how quickly the phenomenon is taking hold.… Among education experts, the four-day week is seen as a phenomenon that’s taken off without much debate and ahead of any conclusive research.”

“What worries education experts is whether kids who in some ways are already at a disadvantage will be further so because of fewer days at school. It’s a question that comes amid a national debate about whether American children should go to school more days — not less — than the typical 180.”

“A team of Oregon State researchers, including those who studied the academic effects of four-day weeks, is attempting to gather data on all of the nation’s four-day schools. … The goal is to learn more about student achievement, but also nutrition and diet, physical activity and sleep, said assistant professor of economics Paul N. Thompson…. Schools need metrics so they can weigh the impact on students’ academics and health before they decide on four-day weeks, he said. 'We really don’t know much about it.'"

(Aug. 29) “What suffers?” Lawmakers aren’t sure.

How difficult is it to be approved for the 4-day week?
I asked the Colorado Department of Education if, over the past several years, all districts applying for permission to operate on a calendar of less than 160 days (commonly called a four-day school week) were granted permission.
Answer:Yes, all applicants were granted permission.”
"The neutrality of the state Department of Education, coupled with a constitution that limits the state’s ability to dictate school policy at the local level, has created an unusual dynamic at the General Assembly.                                                                                           
"On the one hand, many agree that the overall trend is bad. On the other, it’s not clear that it’s a problem in every case — and to the extent that it is, the legislature is limited by the state constitution in how it can respond. School districts are granted local control over most of their operations, including the school calendar."

"McLachlan, the House Education chair, said she suspects there are academic downsides to four-day weeks — the problem is, she hasn’t seen any studies to explore what they are.
The national research on the academic effects of four-day weeks is inconclusive, with the handful of studies that exist in conflict about whether scores improve or decline. One of the most comprehensive reviews, from Oregon State University, found that scores dropped overall after schools switched to four-day weeks, but boys and students who qualify for free or reduced lunch had their scores drop the most

"McLachlan says it’s time for Colorado to do a comprehensive study of its own now that a majority of districts have made the switch….
'What suffers? I think something suffers, and it may be something that’s completely irrelevant and it may be something major,' she said."

[For more information on Colorado’s policy and the application process from districts seeking to be on a four-day school week, see “The Four-Day School Week Information Manual.”      

Addendum B 
What other states have learned and done (and why they’re glad not to be #1) (Bold mine)

New Mexico puts brakes on four-day school schedules[x]
Morgan Lee, Associated Press - Feb. 23, 2018

SANTA FE - New Mexico is threatening to cut off funding at public schools that try to switch to a four-day week as the practice has spread to more than four in 10 school districts across the state.
State lawmakers this month placed a moratorium on additional four-day school scheduling within a general fund spending bill that has yet to be signed by the governor.
Education officials and legislators say it’s not clear that student academics and working families are helped by fewer, longer school days, even as teachers and administrators embrace compressed schedules.
School administrators in far-flung districts have pushed back, noting that four-day weeks have become a tool for attracting teachers who can improve academic results at schools with limited financial resources.
New Mexico lawmakers including Democratic state Sen. Howie Morales of Silver City have said they fear the four-day week will spread in a domino effect as school districts compete with each other for talent —  without regard to statewide academics.
“The Public Education Department is most interested in the extent to which this is driving improved student outcomes and the verdict is still out,” said Lida Alikhani, a spokeswoman for the Public Education Department, in an email.
Jeannie Oakes, a New Mexico-based researcher affiliated with the University of California Los Angeles, said not enough is known to say firmly whether or not four-day schedules hinder or help overall school academics.
At the same time, three-day weekends may have an outsized effect on students from low-income, working families, she said.
“I think people have an image that these kids are in rural areas, that they’re going to work on the farm with mom and dad,” she said. “But it’s not clear if they’re spending a day in front of the TV.”
Sen. Mimi Stewart, chairwoman of the Legislature’s lead education policy committee, said a moratorium buys time for state analysts to study academic consequences.  She said the four-day week is partly a symptom of austere state spending on education in recent years, as districts look for ways to avoid utilities and transportation costs. At the same time, schools are clamoring for state money to expand preschool and extend the school year for students in kindergarten through third grade.
“I don’t think (four days) is the best for working families,” she said. “I don’t think it’s the best for students.”

Oregon, California, Oklahoma, Minnesota – also from The Colorado Sun series last August
(Aug. 27)  “A 2019 report from Oregon State University, however, found that four-day weeks have ‘detrimental effects’ on the achievement of Oregon students. The study was different from the Colorado research[xi] because it looked not at schools’ average test scores, but the scores of individual students. It found that both boys and girls saw math and reading scores drop on standardized tests, but that boys’ scores dropped more. It also found reading scores dropped more for students who were eligible for free or reduced lunch compared with students who were not eligible. More research is required…”

“In Oregon, students at four-day schools are losing about three and a half hours of instruction per week.”
“Some states—including California — require districts to  return to a five-day schedule if their scores drop. … Other states — including Oklahoma — require an extensive application process, including a written proposal to explain why a four-day week is better academically for their students.” 

Minnesota ordered seven districts to return to a five-day schedule after failing to make academic progress and the state is no longer accepting applications for four-day schedules, according to the Center for Reinventing Public Education.”

National research:The four-day school week: Research behind the trend” (Oct. 30, 2019)*

“To save money and help with teacher recruitment, numerous school districts in the United States have decided to give students and employees Fridays off. An estimated 560 districts in 25 states have allowed at least one of their schools to adopt a four-day school week, with most moving to a Monday-to-Thursday schedule, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. Generally, schools make up for the lost day by adding extra time to the remaining four days.”
“Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico and South Dakota are among the states leading the trend, which is especially popular in rural areas in the Midwest. In Colorado alone, 111 out of the state’s 178 school districts are using a compressed schedule, The Colorado Sun reports. Meanwhile, four-day scheduling started spreading so quickly across New Mexico that lawmakers have placed a moratorium on the practice until state leaders can study its impact on student performance and working-class families.”
* - This site also provides an abstract of six studies on the four-day school week.

Missouri – school leaders waiting for the evidence

“Small school districts say move to 4-day week helps attract, retain teachers” (Jan. 26, 2020)[xiii]

"Bigger schools in the area are taking a wait-and-see approach.
"Jefferson City School District Superintendent Larry Linthacum said he might consider switching to a four-day school week in the future if it is proven to increase academic success.
"'We're always looking at how we can better educate our kids and better prepare them to be successful citizens upon graduation and ensure that they do graduate,' Linthacum said. 'So we're open to considerations, but not at this time.'"

Addendum C
Commentary and Research from the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE)

“Beware the Four-Day School-Week Trap - A shorter school week could hold students back”
Commentary by Paul Hill, Education Week, July 14, 2017 (Bold mine)

As many school districts around the nation grapple with declines in state funding, some district leaders are arriving at a questionable solution: Cut the school week to four days. But are these districts adopting the shorter week without both considering other ways to save money and counting the risks to students?
Supporters of the four-day week assert that the longer days make up for the missed fifth day. But teachers and students, especially the younger children, may     not work as effectively at the end of such long days, thus reducing overall learning. Low-income and minority students, who generally have fewer learning resources at home, stand to lose disproportionately from the loss of a day in school. High school students assigned homework every school day will have one less evening of preparation per week. And days lost to illness or weather will have a greater impact on learning time.

Nobody seriously argues that less time in school will increase student learning. And here's the rub: The hundreds of four-day-week districts in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Oklahoma, and Oregon are overwhelmingly rural districts, which, on average, fall below state means on student achievement, graduation rates, and college attendance. A policy that just holds student results to previous levels will not expand students' college options or help communities attract new businesses and jobs.
At the Center on Reinventing Public Education, we have been studying the spread of the four-day week throughout the West and Midwest and often hear how popular it is with teachers and some families who enjoy a day off or the ability to take advantage of the long weekend. We also hear how rural district leaders are finding that teachers like it so much that returning to a five-day week would be politically difficult, no matter what happens to revenues or how it affects student outcomes.

At a time when rural and small-town communities are suffering in many ways, nobody should be complacent about actions that could make things worse. Some localities might look at all the facts and decide that a four-day week will work for their students. That's their right in an era of local control. But governors and state superintendents of education need to make sure local communities look at real numbers and don't jump blindly onto a bandwagon that they might never be able to get off.

CRPE Research

Addendum D
Growth scores for 10 urban districts in 2018-19 – Who is at the bottom? Cause and effect?

Ten urban districts in Colorado where achievement is below (often well below) the state average

Literacy Growth*
Math Growth*
Total Growth Figure (adding Literacy and Math Growth)


Districts on 5-day week

Adams 14

Districts on 4-day week

27J Schools
Pueblo 60

If you examine what the 27 J Schools Board of Education was told in its September 24, 2019, session, board members might be surprised to discover that overall the district’s growth was so low. (They might also be surprised to learn growth fell below 40 in grades 6 and 8.) What the board was told*, in the district’s excessively upbeat report on 2019 achievement and growth scores, included this happy news:

·         6 elementary schools have MGP greater than 50 for 4th Gr. ELA and math (Henderson-ELA, Pennock-ELA & Math, Reunion-ELA & Math, Thimmig-ELA & Math, Turnberry-ELA & Math, North-Math, BECS-ELA, Landmark-Math)
·         9 elementary schools have MGP greater than 50 for 5th Gr. ELA (Pennock, Reunion, Second Creek, Thimmig, West Ridge, BCCS, Foundations, Landmark)
·         6 elementary schools have MGP greater than 50 for 5th Gr. ELA (Reunion, Second Creek, South, Turnberry, BCCS, Landmark)
·         Reunion had MGP greater than 50 for 4th & 5th grades in ELA and Math
·         Turnberry had MGP greater than 50 for 4th in ELA & math and 5th grades in Math
·         Thimmig had MGP greater than 50 for 4th in ELA & math and 5th grade in ELA
·         Pennock had MGP greater than 50 for 4th in ELA & math and 5th grade in ELA
·         PVMS had MGP greater than 50 for 6th, 7th, and 8th grades in ELA
·         BHA had a MGP greater than 50 for math
·         RRHS had a MGP greater than 50 for EBRW and Math
·         PVHS had a MGP of 50 for EBRW
·         ERA had a MGP greater than 50 for EBRW and Math

*From report to School Board, “Academics - 1.2 Composite SAT Scores and 1.3 Academic Status of Schools.”[xiv]

Addendum E

We’re  #1

From NCSL[xv]  - 2018 data
1.      Colorado              55%
2.      New Mexico        43%
3.      Idaho                    38%
4.      Oregon                 32%
5.      South Dakota      23%
% of districts in the state on a 4-day school week

% in 2019-20 is even higher in Colorado – 62% (111/178)*

*CDE’s “The Four-Day School Week Information Manual,“ (Revised July 2019)

On a related matter – time in school – one final question: what is required of Colorado schools? Is it possible we have the shortest school year in the country? 

“A 2018 report from the Education Commission of the States offers a 50-state comparison of students’ instructional time requirements. For example, students in Colorado are required to be in school for a minimum of 160 days a year while in Vermont, the minimum is 175 days and in Alabama, it’s 180.”[xvi]                                                                                                                                                     


[i] The list of the 111 Colorado school districts “approved for less than 160 days for the 2019-20 school year “ is at  the website for the Colorado Department  of Education -
[ii] CDE uses “144 days” in its “The Four-Day School Week Information Manual.” CDE expanded on that in an email to me: “The 144 day calculation mentioned is a mathematical example to provide the reader with a general sense of how reducing days while maintaining the same number of required instructional hours over the course of the school year may be accomplished. The actual calculation will vary between districts” (email received 3/6/2020).  Typical number of school days in Jeffco is 174; Roaring Fork - 173; Littleton – 172; Denver – 171; Douglas - 170.
[v] Though it is worth noting the trend for the only two small rural districts featured in The Colorado Sun series, North Conejos (about 1,000 students) and Center 26J (roughly 620 students), that recently switched to a four-day school week. Both have declined in their ratings and/or points earned since shifting to a four-day schedule.
School Performance Ratings – DECLINE of Total % of Points Earned - 2015-16 to 2018-19

Year 1 on 4-day week
Year 2 on 4-day week
Center 26JT


Accredited on Improvement Plan
Accredited on Improvement Plan
Accredited on Improvement Plan
North Conejos RE-1J
Accredited on Distinction
Accredited on Distinction
Accredited on Distinction
THORNTON, Colo. — School leaders in Denver’s northern suburbs say their four-day school week is paying off. Parents and students told FOX31 they agree.
In 2018, the 27J School District made a progressive move — making school days longer and turning every weekend into three-day weekends.
“It’s just more consistent,” a parent told FOX31.
The eight-hour days allow students to be off Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
“It gives me that one day that I can just relax my brain, plus I can catch up on extra class work,” a Rodger Quist Middle School student said. The change was implemented in 2018.
A newly released district survey of 5,000 people — including parents, staff, middle and high school students — shows 78 percent view four-day weeks favorably, according to the district.
Just more than 78 percent are overall on board with current start times, the survey showed. Elementary schools start at 7:50 a.m. while the older children start at 8:30 a.m.
Research shows the move is better for health and academic performance, according to a district press release.
Some parents, who spoke Wednesday, expressed sympathy for parents of younger children who are forced to find Monday childcare.
[xi][xi] That Colorado study was done nine years ago.  Of the 67 districts in the study, all but five had fewer than 600 students. The total of CSAP tests that informed that study of those 67 districts was 17,547. In contrast 27J Schools and Pueblo 60 had over 35,000 students last year.  
[xii] “50-State Comparison: Instructional Time Policies,” Education Commission of the States, Jan. 14, 2020 -
[xv] National Conference of State Legislatures, (9/2019)
[xvi] “50-State Comparison: Instructional Time Policies,” Education Commission of the States, Jan. 14, 2020 -