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BCTF Research Report

Section XII

Do year-round schools improve student learning?
An annotated bibliography and synthesis of the research

By Charlie Naylor, BCTF Research and Technology Division
May 1995

Do year-round schools improve student learning? A synthesis of the research.

The question of whether year-round education improves student achievement is a key issue in the year-round schooling debate. Proponents of year-round schools claim there are educational benefits for students, reflected in improved test scores. Yet there exists a substantial body of work (Zykowski, 1991, Harp, 1993) which shows no significant differences in educational achievement between students in year-round schools and students in schools with traditional calendars. Another claim (Ballinger et al, 1987) is that long summer breaks in traditional school calendars are harmful as students forget previous learning, and valuable time is taken up in reviewing of curriculum at the start of a new academic year. As an alternative to the traditional calendar, it is often claimed that year-round programs reduce such review time as students have less time to forget material. But the work of Allinder et al (1992) and Wintre (1986) casts doubt on the perception that students in traditional calendar schools retain less than students in year-round sites. However, as with most of the research on this issue, one can find some evidence to support either side of the argument.

How can one approach this issue and make an objective judgement? As in most cases, the best decision is after a thorough and critical review of the literature. From my reading of the literature I would conclude that the case for improved educational achievement caused by the implementation of year- round calendars is not proven and should be treated with some scepticism, for the following reasons:

  1. Many of the studies which show increased educational achievement for students in year round schools are published by the National Association for Year-Round Education (NAYRE). This organization appears evangelical in its promotion of the concept of year-round education. Such a promotion is not problematic in itself - any organization has the right to promote its cause. However, if organizations publish research reports, such research is subject to the same critical scrutiny as any other research, and some of the research published by the NAYRE appears methodologically suspect. In the Winters (1994) paper, for example, a review of recent studies only included studies supplied by the NAYRE and failed to conduct even the most basic of literature searches. Such a search would have uncovered a number of studies less favourable to the NAYRE case that educational achievement is increased through year round education. Such studies include Campbell (1994) and Harp (1993).

    Further dubious reporting methods occurred in the NAYRE published study by Six (1993). In this study, findings which were unfavourable to year-round schools such as the study by Quinlan (1987) were reported as 'inconclusive', even though in describing the Quinlan study, the Six report clearly states that "traditional calendar schools had the higher scaled test scores at all three testings." Describing the Chula Vista (1990) study, Six concludes that "the results favored year-round education" while also stating that "the mean scores of the traditional calendar schools were generally higher than those of the year-round schools." Six's conclusion appears a novel interpretation of data, but one unlikely to find much support in any objective research community.

    The approach of the NAYRE appears to be that if findings are favourable to year-round schools, but statistically insignificant, they are reported as 'favourable'. When the results are not favourable but statistically insignificant, they are reported as 'inconclusive'. By omitting balance from its selection of studies the NAYRE appears far from objective. In addition a number of NAYRE articles appear uncritical and very limited in references, with statements made which are frequently unsubstantiated by evidence. An example is the work of Ballinger et al (1987) with its generalized and unsubstantiated claims of the 'failure' of traditional calendar schools, and the linkage between the purported failure and the traditional school calendar.

  2. There are a substantial number of studies which are conducted by researchers (with no vested interest in either supporting or opposing year-round schooling) which conclude that there appears to be no significant difference in achievement between students in year-round and students in traditional calendar schools. Such studies include Zykowski (1991), Carriedo (1989), Harp (1993) and Kreitzer/Glass (1990).
  3. One of the methodological problems with many of the studies, whatever their conclusions, is the difficulty of islolating the variable of school calendar in relation to student achievement. This was discussed in the evaluation produced by the Utah State Office of Education's Statewide Evaluation of Year Round and Extended-Day Schools (1989). In this study the authors discussed parallel changes that accompanied year-round innovations, suggesting that other pedagogical and organizational changes may also influence student achievement. In the study by Gandara & Fish (1994), team-teaching and co-operative learning strategies were introduced as well as a year-round calendar. How do we know whether it is the calendar change or the team teaching/co operative learning that spurs improvement if such an improvement is claimed? The simple answer is that we don't, because the variables have never been isolated.
  4. Of the studies which conclude that students in yearround schools do achieve at a higher level than students in year- round schools, the differencees in achievement are rarely significant. In the Winters (1994) paper, for instance, only 4 of 19 studies found significant differences (of student achievement) in favour of year-round schools. The author provides a far more optimistic analysis of the findings, stating that 83% of sites found positive improvements in achievement, but most of the claimed improvements were not statistically significant.

    A further concern is the narrowness of the measurement comparing year-round with traditional calendars, with test scores used in all cases. The American preoccupation with test scores as a measure both of student progress and of system accountability is considerable, and different to many Canadian assessment practices, so far at least. Whether standardized test scores alone represent appropriate comparative measures of students' educational achievement between calendar systems appears questionable but is never debated within the literature I have seen to date. There has been no comparative consideration of higher-level thinking or problem-solving skills. If the goal of education is to maximize the numbers of students in poor areas who pass standardized tests in a cost-effective manner, then some year-round sites can contribute to this goal. If the mandate of the education system is wider, and if equity is of any concern, then year-round schools are clearly more limited on the evidence to date.

  5. Issues of educational equity are rarely addressed, but may be significant in terms of educational achievement. Year- round schools are predominantly in disadvantaged communities in many American districts. Is the issue really one of raising educational achievement in such communities, or of limiting spending through reduced capital expenditure? If educational achievement is improved, why are year-round schools not mandated for all communities, and not just for those which are economically deprived? Why do such a miniscule number of private schools (0.0015%) initiate year round calendars, and why are most of those Catholic schools in poor areas? The evidence appears to be that year-round schools are politically unacceptable in wealthier areas, and that arguments for educational gains are not taken seriously by the vast majority of private schools. The Chula Vista study (1991) disconcertingly provides evidence of the growing numbers of poor and minority population students attending year-round schools. In many US districts it appears that inequitable educational provision for rich and poor appears a norm. In a BC context, however, the issue of educational achievement cannot be as easily separated from the ideal of educational equity.
  6. There appears to be little examination of alternatives to year-round schools, or even posing of basic questions. What exactly is the problem? Improving student achievement? Saving money? Why does there only appear to be a single solution - year-round schools - in much of the debate? If educational achievement is not significantly and universally improved by the development of year-round schools, is the concept worth the upheaval it causes? What else could be considered? Perhaps we need to re-state the problem within a local context rather than pursue the analysis of a single answer from a foreign country with many educational, social, climatic, demographic and political differences to Canada.


  • Alcorn, R.D. Test Scores: Can Year-Round Schools Raise Them? Thrust For Educational Leadership, vol 21, no 6, April 1992.

    In a study of San Diego schools, year-round students' tests scores in two California tests were compared - the California Assessment Program (CAP) and the California Test of Basic Skills (CTBS). In a total of 27 comparisons year round schools exceeded traditional calendar schools' results in 17 schools. One traditional calendar school exceeded year-round schools scores and there were no significant differences in nine sites. Comparisons were made between 88 traditional calendar sites and 17 year round sites at grades 3 and 5, as only 17 yr sites had been operational for more than 10 years. The large disparity between sample groups is not explained, nor is there any evidence of attempts to compare similar sites in terms of student domographics or socio-economic status.

  • Allinder, R.M., Fuchs, L.S. Fuchs, D. & Hamlett, C.L. Effects of Summer Break on Math and Spelling Performance as a Function of Grade Level. The Elmentary School Journal, vol 92, no 4, 1992.

    One of the key arguments for year-round schools is the effect of the summer break on student learning. This study found mixed results - that students in grades 2 and 3 regressed significantly in spelling but not in math, and the reverse occurrs for students in grades 4 and 5. Such inconclusive results do not offer great support for the theory of significant regression caused by long breaks.

  • Ascher, Carol. Summer School, Extended School Year and Year Round Schooling for Disadvantaged Students. ERIC/CUE Digest niumber 42. 1988.

    "Recent research shows no significant educational benefits from providing summer schools, extended school years, or year round schooling to disadvantaged students."

  • Ballinger, C.E., Kirschenbaum, N. & Poimbeauf R. P. The Year Round School: Where Learning Never Stops, Phi Delta Kappan Educational Foundation, 1987.

    Claims that "not a single school that has implemented year round education has experienced a drop in achievement because of its implementation." His claim that LA's year round schools school scores are higher than comparable scores in traditional calendar schools contradicts LA's own evaluations (see below). Ballinger suggests that a more continuous flow of learning aids student achievement, and that year-round schools particularly benefits ESL students. He also promotes the use of intersessions for remediation and enrichment. Quotes a 1978 (New York) study by Thomas which identifies students' 'summer learning loss' as the main educational reason for year-round schools. He claims that year-round schools reduces both summer learning loss, and the sense of failure that Ballinger claims inherent in traditional calendars, suggesting that year-round schools combats such effects with more regular intersession activities.

  • Bradford, J. C. Jr. Ten year evaluation of a high school extended school-year plan providing twelve-month schooling with a quarter system, a report for the NAYRE conference. (1988)

    Reports improved scores (between 12 and 20 percentile points) for eleventh grade students attending four quarter continuous year round programs between 1974 and 1986.

  • Brekke, N.R. Year Round Education. Cost saving and educationally effective. Spectrum, 2, 25-30, (1984)

    Reported higher third grade test scores in a year round site than in a site with a traditional calendar.

  • Campbell, A. B. The Year-Round School: Implications for the Music Program. NAASP Bulletin, vol 59, no 393, October 1975.

    A somewhat ancient article, but one that suggests caution in planning year-round calendars and checking the impact on areas such as music, with some reactions of specialist staff being positive and others highly negative. Where the effect seems to be problematic it is because many music programs are geared in part to community events at fixed times of year, requiring group cohesion which is made more difficult when some band members are off-track.

  • Campbell, W.D. Year Round Schooling For Academically AtRisk Students: Outcomes and Perceptions of Participants in an Elementary Program. ERS Spectrum, vol 12 no 3, 1994.*

    Found no educational achievement differences favouring year round schools over those with traditional calendars in Texas elementary schools.

  • Carriedo, R.A. & Goren, P. D. Year-Round Education Through Multi- Tracck Schools, Far West LAboratory Brief No 10, 1989.

    "Although studies generally indicate no achievement loss in year-round schools, district planners need to be aware that research findings are mixed and inconclusive."

  • Chula Vista Elementary School District Report of YRS achievement gains, March 1991.

    Compares grades 3 and 6 CAP and SAT tests scores between 18 traditional calendar schools and 10 year round schools. Found that the average test score for traditional calendar schools were higher in both 1984-85 and in 1989-90, but that the year-round schools had the greater increase in improved achievement scores. In terms of student demographics, minority populations increased by 1.7% more in year-round sites than in traditional calendar sites, and there was a widening gap in socio-economic status between students attending year-round sites than those attending tradtional calendar schools, with the poorer students attending year round sites.

  • Fardig, D. Year Round Education. Program Evaluation Report. Orange County Public Schools, Florida, 1992.*

    Evaluation of year-round schools in this district found that while there were some gains in student achievement during the first year of year-round schools, these were not maintained in the following year. All but one of Orange County's year round programs are in elementary schools in the 1994-95 school year.

  • Gandara, P. & Fish, J. Year Round Schooling as an Avenue to Major Structural Reform. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, vol. 16 no. 1, pp. 67-85, Spring 1994.

    A paper which describes a pilot year round program in California. The pilots aimed to:

    1. Increase school capacity by at least 18%, using a 60-15 calendar.
    2. Increase teacher salaries by 20% by extending contracts.
    3. Reduce class size by 3 students per class.
    4. Provide 8 additional days of instruction for 'at-risk students' in intersessions.
    5. Operate at no extra cost and preferably show some savings after initial start-up costs. Four criteria for evaluation of the pilots were established:
      1. Achievement of all pupils in the pilots measured by standardized tests should exceed the control group (traditional calendar).
      2. At-risk students should show gains when compared to similar students in the control group.
      3. Pupil and teacher absentee rates should not exceed level established at the baseline year.
      4. At least 60% of parents and teachers should express satisfaction with the program.

    In terms of educational achievement, the study's conclusions are mixed. Analysis of variance of gains in math and reading scores suggest that there were no significant differences between the experimental (year round) and control (traditional calendar) schools, with the exception of one school which showed significant gains in math achievement for its student body as a whole when compared to the control school. There were significant gains in reading achievement at all three year-round schools for the most 'at risk' students in some but not all subject areas. What is interesting about this study is that year-round schools was only part of the reform. The schools also implemented support and incentives for team teaching and co operative learning. What influence such pedagaogical changes may have made to students achievement scores is not clear, but it may be expected that such changes might positively influence student achievement.

  • Glass, G.V. Policy Considerations in Conversion to YearRound Schools. Policy Briefs of the Education Policy Studies Laboratory, No. 92-01, 1992. See also Kreitzer and Glass, below.

    In terms of students 'vacation learning loss' caused by long summer breaks, the authors report a study which found that differences in achievement between students in traditional calendar schools after a long break and those in year-round schools were insignificant. They also discuss curriculum change, stating that year-round programs often stimulate innovative and flexible curriculum models, but that such change is not reflected in student achievement.

  • Harp, L. Advocates of year round schooling shift focus to educational benefits. Education Week, Feb 24, 1993.

    States that 'the studies looking at educational gains in year-round schools that are available generally provide mixed results and no overwhelming learning gains. ' Mentions a number of reports, including:

    A study at A & M University, Texas, showing no measurable achievement gains for year round students.

    • Research authored by Roby, an administrator from Ohio who found 'modest' achievement gains in one year-round school.
    • Norman Brekke, Superintendent of Oxnard School District, California, who reported that after 17 years of year-round schools, Oxnard students have yet to reach the average state achievement-test scores in most categories. (However, in a statement reported in the April 1990 'School Administrator', Brekke was reported to have said that the (71% Hispanic) district's scores 'had surpassed the state's average improvement by up to 400% in some grade levels'. He was unspecific as to which grade levels and to the overall comaprison with average state scores.)
    • Reports from Orange County, Florida stating that 'many of the benefits associated with the year-round schedule have been more perceived than realized', and that 'people want you to prove that test scores are going up but that's a very difficult thing to do.'
    • Peggy Sorensen, a principal in Jordan, Utah, pointed to 'the uncertain relationship beween educational improvement and year round calendars adopted to ease overcrowding or budget problems."
  • Howell, V.T. An Examination of Year-Round Education : Pros and Cons That Challenge Schooling in America. 1988.

    States that although proponents of year-round schools claim that shorter vacations reduce learning loss, there are no studies that prove the superiority of traditionnal or year round calendars in relation to knowledge retention or achievement. She suggests also that YRS may not be effective in influencing curriculum pronblems, and that if current curriculum does not meet student needs, a change in calendar is unlikely to help.

  • Kreitzer, Amelia and Gene V. Glass. "Policy Considerations in Conversion to Year-round Schools." New Brunswick Educational Administrator. No. 19 (Apr. 1990), p.1-5.

    Concludes that year-round schools are principally a cost cutting measure, and while they do no harm to student achievement, they do not enhance it. Reports of a yearround district (Cherry Creek) which operated year-round schools in 1974, and found that "differences between stndardized test scores in the two types of schools (yearround education, traditional calendar) were found to be insignificantly small even after matching pupils on IQ. Similar findings are reported in Mesa County (Colorado) and across the country."

  • Los Angeles School District Reports Alkin et al. (1982, 1987) reported that students on year round calendars scored 'below district averages' in test scores. When such students were compared with demographically similar students from schools with traditional calendars, no significant differences in achievement were found.

    A 1988-89 LA evaluation, publication # 548, reported by Quinn found lower math scores in year-round schools, and that students from year-round schools were less prepared for post-secondary education. The study also reported more burnout in students in year round schools, but there appears little supporting evidence for the latter claims.

    In one (1987) LA report "Historical Overview, Operational Data and Summary of the Research on Year Round Education", the district reported contradictory evidence, stating that year-round schools scores were higher in grades 3, 6 and 8 for reading and math, while also stating that only the grade 8 year-round schools students scored higher in math, and only the third grade year-round schools students scored higher in reading.

    In a 1991 study of Los Angeles Concept 6 schools by Herman reported in Six (1993), " the results favored the Concept 6 schools, but not at a statistically significant level."

  • Merino, B.J. The Impact of Year Round Schooling. Urban Education, 18, 298-316. (1983)

    Merino reported nine studies that used a pre-test post-test format to compare student achievement from sites with year round and traditional calendars. At six of the sites there were no significant differences in achievement, and at three sites lower scores were reported at year round schools. But in this as in some other studies, whether calendar was a significant factor appears unclear.

  • National Education Association: What the Research says About Year-Round Schools. 1987

    Reports the results of nine studies comparing academic achievement for students in year-round schools with students attending schools with traditional calendars between 1970 and 1980. Four of the studies showed positive gains in achievement in year-round schools (Moortgat, Pelavin, Cordova, Kamp). Two showed lower achievement in year-round schools (Harlan, Matty) and the remainder were mixed. Comparisons are dependent on data from stndardized tests.

  • O'Neil, I. Riley and David R. Adamson. "When Less Is More: How to Handle an Enrollment Boom Without Going Bust." The American School Board Journal. Vol.180, No.4 (Apr 1993), p.39-41.

    The authors are the Deputy Superintendent and the Director of elementary school services in Granite School District in Salt Lake City, Utah. They report that "year-round scheduling has not raised test scores, but neither has student achievement suffered."

  • O'Neal, Sandra et al. Year-round Education: The Second Year, 1990-1991. Alberquerque, New Mexico: Alberquerque Public Schools, Planning, Research and Accountability, 1991(?).

    The authors reviewed eight studies of educational achievement in other year-round districts, finding that 'overall trends show that achievement remains at about the same level or increases slightly after YRE is introduced.'

  • Quinlan et al. Year round education: Year-round opportunities. California State Department of Education. (1987)

    Found that year round school students performed below the predicted level compared to traditional calendar students even when statistical adjustments were made to allow for levels of disadvantage in year round schools.

  • Rasberry, Quinn. Year-round schools may not be the answer. ERIC document. (1992)

    States that many studies conclude that year round schools do not improve educational achievement. Quotes the LA evaluations (see separate entry). Other sources include: Prince William County Schools Technical Report. "Overall, no evidence was found that there is any significant difference in the education being received on the 45/15 plan as compared to the traditional calendar." In addition, "two-thirds of the educators on the 45/15 plan found it unsatisfactory." Houston Independent School District. With 25 year round schools, a 1985-86 study found no difference in test scores between year-round schools and traditional calendar students. (NB This finding is contradicted by Zykowski and by Six, both of whom reported increased achievement for YRS students.) Students transferring from year-round schools to traditional schools often lost a month of instruction and had to catch up o after transferring schools. A 1987 National Education Association report which concludes that "year round school generally does not have significant effects on achievement." Rasberry also quotes comments from an educator in Lodi, California, who co-ordinates year- round schools who states that any improvements in learning are not as a result of year round schools.

  • Schmieder, June H. and Arthur J. Townley. "Making a Smooth Transition." Thrust for Educational Leadership. Vol.21, No.6 (Apr. 1992), p.26-27,30-31.

    "Evidence that clearly proves the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of year-round education (in terms of student achievement) has not been established."

  • Six, Leslie. A Review of Recent Studies Relating to the Achievement of Students Enrolled in Year-Round Education Programs, January 1993.

    Six reports that ten of thirteen studies favour year-round education when comparing test results between year-round and traditional calendar sites. However, the report is fundamentaly flawed by its dubious methods of reporting, including the reporting of findings unfavourable to year round schools (Quinlan, 1987) as 'inconclusive'. Results which appear mixed, such as the Chula Vista (1990) study are reported as favouring year-round education, and the description of the Gandara (1992) study represents a highly selective publication of results.

  • Stimson, J. Combination Classes: Helpful or Harmful. Thrust for Educational Leadership, vol 21, no 6, April 1992.

    Argues that achievement levels in year-round schools may be due to combination (ie mixed grade) classes in many year round programs. The author suggests that many combination classes in year-round schools are formed through administrative necessity rather than because of educational needs. In a school of 600 students on a four track system, each track will have 150 students. With a teacher-student ratio of 1:30, there will be 20 teachers in the school.

    With seven grades (k-6) and five teachers per track, there must be some combination classes. The matter is complicated by uneven distribution through the grades, so there may be very small numbers of grade 3 students and a large grade 5 population, leading to extra combination classes. The author states that research into combination classes in traditional calendar schools has found no significant difference in achievement between students in single-grade classes and those in combination classes. In multi-track year round schools, however, students in single grade classes achieve more than their counterparts in combination classes in reading, language and mathematics. The author recommends that schools avoid the use of combination classes in year-round sites.

  • Utah State Office of Education. Statewide Evaluation of Year Round and Extended-Day Schools, Executive Summary. 1989

    Somewhat flimsy in its analysis of achievement issues but interestingly identifies what may be a significant factor that schools which implement year-round programs may also be introducing parallel changes which may improve student achievement: "Thus we can say that with the implementation of year-round education and all the changes that may take place simultaneously, including increased teacher enthusiasm, more structured curriculum, and increased testing and tracking of students, academic achievement of students is not hurt and may possibly be benefitted."

  • Virginia State Department of Education. Instructional Time and Student Learning: A Study of the School Calendar and Instructional Time, December 1992. *

    States that data from year round schools offering optional summer quarters do not indicate superior student performance by students attending year round schools.

  • Weaver, Tyler. Year-Round Education. ERIC Digest, 1992.

    Weaver quotes several studies which show students in year round schools scoring below students in traditional calendar schools (Merino, 1983; Quinlan, 1987) but concludes that "in the words of Carriedo and Goren (1989), while studies rarely show that YRE lessens achievement, research findings are mixed and inconclusive."

  • Webster, William E and Kenneth L. Nyberg. "Converting a High School to YRE." Thrust for Educational Leadership. Vol.21 No.6 (Apr. 1992), p.22-25.

    "There appear to be no trends in any of the districts describing either improvements or decline in standardized achievement test scores as measured by district-administered tests and the California Assessment Program. Further evidence produced from interviews and a review of evaluation reports from Los Angeles Unified School District confirm that the impact of year-round education on achievement scores at the high school level has been inconclusive." This may be a useful indicator, one of the few articles that focuses on student achievement issues at the High School level. In the Winters study, for example, only 3 of 19 sites included secondary student achievement data.

  • Winters, W. L. A Review of Recent Studies Relating to the Achievement of Students Enrolled in Year-Round Education Programs, National Association for Year-Round Education Programs, November 1994

    Unfortunately the author of this review, instead of conducting a literature search to find recent studies, relied solely on studies provided to him by the National Association for Year-Round Education, which is a little like conducting a review of BC collective bargaining and getting all your data from the BCTF. Nineteen studies are included, with the author claiming that students in yearround programs performed better than students in traditional calendar schools. However, there is no explanation of consideration of any variables other than school calendar. Only four of the nineteen studies actually reported differences in achievement which were statistically significant, and some of these claims appear spurious. For instance, although an Orange County (Florida) study included test results for grades 2, 3, 4 and 5, in the Winters study only reading comprehension and math are reported as showing statistically significant gains for grades 2 and 4. What happened in grades 3 and 5 is not reported, but there is no explanation for this omission.

  • Wintre, M. G. Challenging the Assumption of Generalized Academic Loss Over Summer. Journal of Educational Research, vol 79 no 5, June 1986.

    The author of this Canadian study concludes that "the widely held assumption of genralized academic losses over the summer appears unwarranted. More specifically, academic changes over the summer appear to be differentially affected by both content area and grade level. This finding is of obvious practical importance since costly educational interventions are routinely mounted to counteract often non existent summer losses. It is important for theoretical reasons too for it lends support to the conception of children as active, self-motivating learners."

  • Zykowski et al. A Review of Year-Round Education Research, California Educational Research Co-operative (1991)

    This study reports mixed results but states that the most comprehensive research conducted by Stanford Research Institute found "no significant difference in achievement between students on year-round calendars and students attending traditional calendar programs." The same study found no significant learning loss for disadvantaged students over the summer vacation.

* indicates the statement in this bibliography taken from the ERIC abstract rather than full text.

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