Increasing instructional minutes can cause an increase in academic achievement

September 19, 2019 — by Jeanette Zhou

When the new tutorial policy was announced in August, I was confused. Both my older brother and sister had the old tutorial system at Saratoga High, and they graduated without any problems. Why the change? 

While I first thought that the concern over the extra minutes seemed pointless, my research brought me to the conclusion that not only should students not whine the more structured tutorial, we should welcome it.

Saratoga High is part of the Los Gatos-Saratoga Union High School District, which must follow the rules set by the California Department of Education (CDE). According to the CDE, students are required to attend 180 days of school and a total of 64,800 minutes for all four years of high school.

Surprisingly, this only applies to California. Throughout the U.S., high school instructional minute policies vary from 75,600 minutes to 19,800 minutes a year, with some states — including New York, West Virginia and Mississippi — not having a minimum.

With such large variety in instructional-minute minimums, I wanted to find a reason California had an instructional-minute minimum so far above the average.

I stumbled upon a large-scale, comprehensive study posted on PubMed Central (PMC), which contains files from the U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institute of Health, provides a strong argument for increased instructional minutes. 

The study was conducted over a randomized trial of 90 schools in Denmark and included a total of 1,931 fourth graders. Over the course of 16 weeks, the schools increased their instructional minutes by three hours weekly. The results found that the increase in instructional minutes improved student learning, even without a set curriculum. 

While the data in Denmark may not translate perfectly here, this study is one of the only large-scale comprehensive studies on instructional minutes that is currently available. 

If one were to attempt to use data from the United States, such as the average 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) mathematics assessment score, there would be practically no correlation between instructional minutes and academic achievement. However, there are many other factors that affect student performance among the differing states, so this finding is relatively inconclusive.

One point against the efficacy of instructional minutes is brought up in Time Magazine’s “You Now Have a Shorter Attention Span Than a Goldfish,” which describes the shrinking attention span of younger generations. This argument can be rebutted by the PMC article, which took into account factors like willpower and found that when accompanied by a teaching plan, increased instructional time actually decreased behavioral problems associated with lack of attention.

So students, stop complaining. Thirty extra minutes of more structured instructional time can only help to increase academic performance. Instead of spending tutorial checking social media, we should be using the time to do homework and talking with teachers. In fact, I would argue that Saratoga High should extend the school day by increasing each period to 100 minutes, instead of 90, in order to boost academic performance.

While it might be a pain to have to stay at school for longer, in 10 years, when you are smarter than your brother and sister, maybe you’ll have those extra academic minutes to thank.




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