Science Says Shorter School Weeks Might Be Just as Good

Three day weekends + fourth and fifth graders = better math scores.

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Photo by Compassionate Eye Foundation/Robert Daly/OJO Images

Less may be more for elementary schoolers when it comes to how many days they should spend in the classroom. According to a new study from Georgia and Montana State Universities, a shortened school week doesn't seem to have a negative impact on student learning. In fact, fifth grade math scores actually improved.  

For the study, published in Education, Finance and Policy, researchers compared 10 years of fourth and fifth grade test scores from traditional and four-day week schools from the Colorado Student Assessment Program. According to the study, four-day school weeks are more common in rural areas districts in Colorado, where they school about three percent of the student population. This is because of a 1985 decision that changed school year requirements to a fixed number of hours instead of days. Students at alternative schedule schools had a longer school day than those attending traditional schedules schools.

Researchers found the schools that switched to the four-day week schedule actually reported an increase of about 7.41 percent amongst fifth-grade students that scored in the proficient or advanced categories in math. For fourth-grade students, there was a smaller increase of about 3 percent. Reading levels for both grades remained relatively constant.

“What interested me about our results is they were completely opposite to what we anticipated," Mary Beth Walker, dean of the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State said in a statement. "We thought that especially for the younger, elementary school kids, longer days on a shorter school week would hurt their academic performance because their attention spans are shorter. Also, a longer weekend would give them more opportunity to forget what they had learned."

The research suggests a four-day school week can help raise test scores at a financial advantage for rural school districts, which experience lower success rates and receive fewer resources than their urban peers. The researchers did not know how this phenomenon would translate for urban or suburban school districts.