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Expanded Learning Time Linked to Higher Test Scores

Improved student performance was just one of the gains found after Tumbleweed Elementary School implemented an expanded learning time model, according toa new case study from the National Center of Time & Learning. The new brief is the second in a series released by the center that looks at schools that have recently added more time to the school day or year and seen early, positive gains.

Tumbleweed Elementary, a school in the Palmdale district north of Los Angeles, had been chronically underperforming since the 1990s and had not made Adequate Yearly Progress markers (mandated by No Child Left Behind) since the law was adopted in 2001, according to the brief. To improve the school, the district applied for (and won) a three-year, $6 million federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) in 2009, and crafted a turnaround strategy that focused on how added time could improve student outcomes and school climate.

The challenges were significant, says brief authors, especially given that the school was diverse, overcrowded, (with average class sizes hovering around 30 students), and had high rates of poverty (94 percent of students qualify for free and reduced price lunch).

To implement the new model, 41 new teachers were placed at the school, along with a new principal. The school added an hour to the day to be used for more math instruction, professional development time for teachers, and academic supports for students who were falling behind in particular subjects.

After the first year of implementation in 2010-2011, the school saw a 14 point gain in student English language arts scores and a 23 point gain in math on the California state standardized tests, and met Adequate Yearly Progress markers (NCLB) for the first time. There were small performance gains the following year as well, and overall, student behavior was said to significantly improve when new behavior and academic expectations were set.

However, the brief makes clear that the added time was not the sole reform that has supported improved school performance during this time period. The school also focused on improving the use of data to track students and measure their progress, creating student incentives to improve behavior and school climate, and placing an emphasis on the need for teacher collaboration.

"Tumbleweed's decision to add time to the student day and to the teacher year as well would be ineffective if the school did not also have strong teachers, along with protocols around teacher collaboration, tools that enable data analysis, and a culture of high behavioral and academic expectations," the brief's authors write.

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