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Year-Round Classes Growing in U.S., Getting Good Marks

February 02, 1988|ELAINE WOO | Times Education Writer

Although many Los Angeles school district parents view year-round schooling as a pestilence being visited only on them, a growing number of schools in other cities and states are using the controversial calendar--and getting strongly positive reviews.

The slowly spreading popularity of year-round school is evident this week in Anaheim, where more than 700 educators and parents from several states and Canada have converged for a three-day conference sponsored by the National Assn. for Year-Round Education.

To most of these folks--who include administrators, teachers and parents--the idea of keeping schools open 11 or 12 months a year presents definite benefits. And it has allowed some entrepreneurs an opportunity to break new ground by marketing school designs that specifically address the needs of year-round operations.

Today, 385,000 students nationwide attend year-round schools, said Charles Ballinger, executive secretary of the San Diego-based year-round education association. Although that is a tiny fraction of the nation's 40 million students in elementary and secondary public schools, the number represents a growth of 22,000 students over last year.

The vast majority of the 410 year-round campuses in the country are in states west of the Mississippi, with 292 in California alone, Ballinger said. Beginning in July, an additional 52 schools across the country will convert to an all-year calendar, including 16 in San Diego, 4 in Long Beach and 10 in Fresno.

Sometime after March 1, the Los Angeles Unified School District is expected to again tackle the thorny question of converting all of its schools to year-round operation. Because of overcrowding, one out of four of the district's 592,000 students follows a year-round schedule. A task force was named by the Los Angeles school board Monday to study various year-round calendars and recommend one that could be used by all schools.

If Los Angeles approves a plan to put all of its students on a year-round schedule, it would quicken the adoption of year-round calendars nationwide, Ballinger said.

A typical year-round calendar offers the same number of vacation days but spreads breaks throughout the year. By scheduling classes through the summer months, it can increase the capacity of a school, as well as promote better retention of learning, supporters say.

In the Los Angeles district, year-round programs are experienced mainly by minority youngsters whose schools are too crowded to operate on a traditional nine-month schedule. Opposition to the change in calendar has come primarily from white parents on the Westside and in the West San Fernando Valley, who complain that year-round schooling would disrupt family vacations, create child-care problems and limit extracurricular opportunities.

Ballinger, who has monitored the progress of year-round schools for 17 years, noted that in other districts, primarily outside of California, year-round schools are attended mainly by white and middle- and upper-middle-class students who follow the calendar for educational reasons.

For instance, at Parry McCluer High School in Buena Vista, Va., an industrial town with a predominantly white population, a voluntary year-round program has been offered for the last 14 years. More than half of the school's 400 students choose to go to summer classes, giving them a total of 218 days of schooling a year--more than the 180 days required in most districts in the country.

According to Buena Vista City Schools Supt. James C. Bradford Jr., test scores lagged below the 50th percentile nationally in 1974, when the year-round program was launched, but now match or slightly exceed the national average. In addition, the dropout rate has been reduced to 3.9% from a high of 5.8%, in large part because the addition of the summer quarter gave students who were failing courses more opportunity to make up the work.

In Sandy, Utah, a suburb of Salt Lake City, students in a white, upper-middle-class elementary school who are entering the third year of a year-round program have raised their test scores, which were already above average before the year-round calendar was instituted.

Willow Canyon School Principal Gilbert Stevenson, who presented his findings in Anaheim on Monday, said pupils in all ability levels at the Utah school have made substantial academic gains on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, a standardized achievement test that allows national comparisons.

The average score of second-grade students who were in the lowest-achieving group increased from 44.25 in the four years before the year-round program to 60.5 in 1985-87. Medium-ability students improved their scores from an average of 72.25 to 83.0, while the highest group--those scoring in the top 25% nationally--went from an average score of 88.5 to 92.0.

Stevenson said year-round education is a high priority in Utah, where public school enrollment is growing more quickly than the state can build new schools. A state law recently passed now requires public schools to convert to a year-round calendar within four years, he said.

Architectural Design West, a Salt Lake City-based architecture firm, has seized the opportunity to design schools that use solar energy and save on heating and cooling costs--an attractive feature for officials worried about the higher costs of running schools 12 months a year. The firm has built about a dozen such schools, including one in the Oxnard School District in Ventura County, a spokesman for the company said.

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