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Scrap tradition to improve results

Reva Klein on findings from the American Educational Research Association's 2001 conference

Learning improves when children attend school in five-week blocks, with an additional week available to provide individualised tuition for those who need it.

While the current trend in the USA is for lengthening the school year to "year-round schools", particularly in inner-city areas, the majority of schools in the UKand the USA follow the traditional agrarian calendar, with children attending school in semester blocks, followed by a long summer break. This leaves low-achieving children at a disadvantage. Their needs may not be addressed until the end of the year, when it's often too late to prevent them being held back.

A number of state-run schools in Texas have altered the school calendar to deal with this problem, offering year-round schooling in five-week blocks over 170 (as opposed to he traditional 180) days. When those children who require extra help go into school on the sixth week for one-to-one tuition, the others are offered a range of enrichment activities involving computers, reading or field trips.

A three-year comparative study of five school districts running on the new "intercession calendar" compared to five running on the traditional school year found that children in the first group achieved significantly higher results in standardised mathematics and writing tests, with the biggest gains in reading, at 12 percentage points. Clearly, not only are the lowest achievers getting the customised support they need to boost their grades, but the successful learners are also benefiting from the extra-curricular opportunities provided by the school district.

Student Achievement: Is Equality Really Necessary? by Jimmy K. Byrd. E-mail:

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