Currently, West Virginia's school calendar is 200 days with 180 days of instruction. The State Board has voiced its concern over the past several years about the erosion of instructional days due to various factors including faculty senate days, out-of-school environment days, inclement weather and the restrictions on the opening and closing dates for the school term.
"Unless we make some major modifications to the school calendar," said State Board Member Jim MacCallum of Boone County, "we will continue to lose valuable instructional time that will adversely impact student learning."
In West Virginia, the 180-day calendar also includes field trips, school-wide assemblies, and other non-instructional activities that reduce the number of days in the classroom to considerably less than 180. For counties with full-day faculty senate meetings, the number of instructional days drops to 170 or lower, giving West Virginia the distinction of being the state with the fewest days of required instructional time.
To make substantive changes to the school calendar, the West Virginia Legislature would remove the requirements that limit the parameters on the opening and closing dates of the school year. Additionally, state code would be modified to remove the 43-week requirement for completion of the school year. Alternatively, the State Board could institute such modifications through board policy rather than statute.
"Without these changes, we will be unable to capture any more instructional time for students," noted State Board Member Cleo Mathews of Hinton. "With the increased expectations we have for student achievement, coupled with the fact that American students still lag behind their counterparts in other leading industrialized nations, it is imperative that we rethink the agrarian September-June school calendar," said Mathews.
The State Board also recommends removal of the stipulation that faculty senate days be counted as instructional days and instead schedule those meetings during non-instructional times. Facullty Senate days now account for up to 10 calendar days when students are not receiving instruction.
"Another serious concern is the loss of instruction when school is canceled due to inclement weather," commented State Board President J.D. Morris of Clay. "Although these days represent days of instruction for which staff is paid, rarely are those days rescheduled so that students receive the minimum number of days of instruction. If you take into account the weather or other emergencies not required to be made up, the number of instructional days drops precipitously."
Other recommendations from the State Board include reducing the number of out-of-school environment days from six to two. The Board suggests that these days could be used as "make-up days" if school has been canceled because of weather, or they may be used for professional development for educators. "As we change the standards for children and continue to raise the level of achievement, it is clear that we must make the same adjustment in time," remarked MacCallum. "If we embrace 21st century expectations for young people, we must abandon a 20th century school calendar."
The 1983 landmark report, "A Nation at Risk," noted that it was not unusual for high school students in other industrialized countries to spend eight hours a day at school, 220 days each year. By contrast, the U.S. school day typically lasts six hours and runs between 175 to 180 days. The report recommended that school districts increase instructional time by implementing a seven-hour school day and a 200-220 day school year. That recommendation has been largely ignored.