Editor’s Note: This blog post is part of an ongoing series of posts dedicated to K-12 education policy in Mississippi.


By Grace Breazeale I K-12 Policy Associate

As most districts welcomed students back to school in August, districts on a balanced academic calendar were already going into their second month of the school year. The balanced calendar format is becoming increasingly popular across the state: around 20% of districts will implement some form of it during the 2023-2024 school year, up from 8% the previous year. 

A balanced academic calendar, also known as a modified academic calendar or year-round school, is essentially a reorganization of the 180-day school year. While the typical academic calendar includes a months-long summer break with short breaks dispersed throughout the rest of the year, a balanced academic calendar reduces the length of summer break but increases the length of other breaks throughout the school year. For instance, a district on a balanced calendar may have 45-day quarters, separated by 15-day breaks from school. Or, a district may have 60-day trimesters, separated by 20-day breaks. 

What is driving districts to switch from a traditional calendar to a balanced calendar? Supporters of this switch claim that it can prevent the “summer slide,” which refers to summer learning loss that can occur as a result of a lack of academic activities during long summer breaks. Additionally, advocates argue that the switch to this calendar can be advantageous for students who need academic interventions, as the breaks dispersed throughout the year (“intersessions”) can be used for academic remediation. Rather than waiting until summer school to reteach a course, teachers can use these intersessions to remediate the specific concepts that they recently taught. The modified calendar has garnered support for non-academic reasons as well: dispersing breaks throughout the year could be easier on working parents than the traditional long summer break. For teachers, the modified calendar can help prevent burnout. 

On the other hand, the format has its detractors. One of the primary arguments against switching to a modified calendar is that there is insufficient evidence to support its academic benefits (we explore this further in the following section). Other points of criticism include that it could be expensive to keep the school building open all year round, and that this alternative format could make it difficult for high school students to hold summer jobs.

What Does the Evidence Say?

While numerous studies have sought to capture the impact of a balanced academic calendar on standardized test scores, relatively few of these can be classified as robust, high-quality research. For instance, a recent meta-analysis found that balanced calendars can raise student scores, but, as outlined in this Education Next article, 26 out of 35 of the studies used in the meta-analysis are unpublished dissertations; three are district reports; two are presentations; and one is a master’s thesis. Only three are peer-reviewed articles. 

Among the few robust studies that exist, the evidence on balanced academic calendars is inconclusive at best. While some research has found that students on a balanced calendar made small but statistically significant gains compared to their peers on a traditional calendar, other research has found that students on a balanced calendar score similarly to students on a traditional calendar. A third study has found that a balanced calendar can have a negative effect on student scores. 

It is important to note that most research on balanced school calendars fails to evaluate the role of academic intersessions in student scores. In other words, few robust studies delineate how much of the changes in scores were due to the shift to the year round calendar and how much were due to the implementation of the intersessions. Separate research on the potential impacts of tutoring, as well as extending the school year, on academic achievement would indicate that intersessions could have a positive impact on students’ academic achievement—but stronger research specifically on the impact of these intersessions would be required to determine their impact with certainty. If success of a balanced academic calendar is in fact dependent on the intersessions, the balanced calendar may need to be redefined to incorporate this as a necessary component for schools that switch to the format.

Though academic research on the balanced academic calendar has been inconclusive about its effectiveness, stakeholders across Mississippi have indicated satisfaction with it. In gauging support for a potential switch to the format in 2021, Forrest and Lamar County School Districts surveyed parents and teachers regarding their feelings towards the modified calendar. In Forrest County, around 87% of teachers and 60% of parents supported the switch. In Lamar County, around 63% of parents and 77% of teachers were in favor of the new calendar. Reports from other areas have also been positive: school and district leaders in Gulfport and Corinth school districts have reported seeing less learning loss after implementing the new calendar. These stories of success have caught the attention of other districts, as well as lawmakers, leading to the format’s rise in popularity.

Rise in Popularity

Corinth School District was the first in Mississippi to adopt a balanced calendar, having made the transition in 2016. It remained the state’s only district on a balanced calendar until at least 2019. From 2016 to 2019, the district saw its graduation rate rise from 91.5% to 94.8%, an improvement that its leaders attribute to its balanced calendar. 

In 2020—right in the thick of the COVID pandemic—the Senate Education Committee held a hearing to learn more about the balanced calendar, inviting the superintendent of the Corinth School District to testify. He discussed the rise in achievement the district had experienced since implementing the new calendar, as well as student and parent satisfaction. Other districts, looking for interventions to stem learning loss, took note of this success. By the 2022-2023 school year, Corinth was joined by eleven other school districts implementing balanced calendars. In the 2023-2024 school year, the total number will increase to twenty-nine districts. 

According to our analysis of the districts that are implementing the modified calendar in the 2023-2024 school year, the vast majority of these districts will give students two weeks off for fall break, one week off for Thanksgiving break, two weeks off for Christmas, two weeks off for spring break, and around six weeks off for summer break (with several other holidays dispersed throughout the year). Most of these districts are offering two intersession periods for remediation that will occur during one of the weeks of fall break and one of the weeks of spring break. Few of the schools are offering additional intersession periods outside of these two weeks. Some districts will not have intersession periods at all. The lack of frequent intersession periods is notable because of the claim about balanced calendars allowing for more immediate remediation in intercession periods. What impact, if any, can year-round school have on academic achievement if its intersession periods are few and far between, or even nonexistent? We do not currently have the resources to answer this question, though it is an important one to consider.

Current and Future Legislative Support

The balanced academic calendar has maintained support within state government since the Senate Education Committee hearing in 2020. During the 2023 Legislative Session, Senate Bill 2361 would have provided grant money to districts implementing a balanced calendar. As we noted in the introduction, the implementation of a balanced calendar can be financially costly for districts for a variety of reasons, including increased transportation costs, utility costs, and additional compensation for teachers who lead remediation sessions in the interim; these are the costs the proposed legislation would have helped offset. Though the bill did not ultimately pass, we would not be surprised to see similar legislation in the upcoming session, as various legislators have been vocally supportive of the balanced calendar.

The tide seems to be moving towards more balanced school calendars in Mississippi. Even though there is a lack of decisive evidence about the academic impacts of this format, the switch could be a positive one for families, teachers, and other community members. As a result, we believe it is vital for districts to seek and incorporate the input of these stakeholders as they evaluate whether to make the switch. We will continue to monitor and evaluate the results from districts that choose to implement this format.

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