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Opinion

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Furthermore …

Missed opportunity?

A Harvard researcher has some encouraging news for school officials fretting over weather-related school cancellations: Snow days don’t affect student learning.

Yes, it’s counterintuitive that lost classroom days don’t harm achievement, but a study by Joshua Goodman, assistant professor of public policy for the Harvard Kennedy School, finds that’s the case. On the contrary, keeping schools open under dangerous weather conditions is worse than closing, he found.

Goodman did the study for the Massachusetts Department of Education, examining data in grades 3 through 10 from 2003-10.

The findings are “consistent with a model in which the central challenge of teaching is coordination of students,” he writes. “With slack time in the schedule, the time lost to closure can be regained. Student absences, however, force teachers to expend time getting students on the same page as their classmates.”

Goodman warns that administrators need to consider the consequences if they don’t cancel school: “The fact is that many kids will miss school regardless either because of transportation issues or parental discretion. And because those absences typically aren’t made up in the school calendar, those kids can fall behind.”

The Harvard study isn’t likely to assuage concerns Indiana school administrators have about the missed school days so far this year. Each day is one less day of preparation for ISTEP+, the standardized test that has become the overriding measure not only of student progress but also teacher, school and district quality.

When Indiana lawmakers attached such extraordinarily high stakes to the test, they created a perverse incentive for administrators to take unnecessary chances with student safety. Thankfully, most schools have put student welfare over test prep.

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