When it comes to school, more is better


A report released Wednesday by the non-partisan Office of the Legislative Auditor found that students who attend “extended time” classes — those offered before or after the school day or during summer vacation — perform better on standardized tests than students who don’t take the classes.

The state’s alternative education programs serve about 150,000 students at risk of not graduating from the traditional education system. Alternative education programs are provided by area learning centers (ALCs), alternative learning programs (ALPs), and contract alternative schools. They often substitute for a traditional school, and many also offer “extended-time” programs that take place outside of the traditional school day (either during the summer or before or after school). About 75 percent of students in alternative education programs were enrolled only in extended-time programs.

Only students who are academically behind their peers are eligible for the programs. “Not surprisingly, alternative education students had lower rates of proficiency than other students on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, Series II (MCA-II) exams,” the report found.

However, students in kindergarten through eighth grade who received extended-time services showed higher-than-expected growth on the MCA-II and the Northwest Evaluation Association’s assessments when compared with other Minnesota students and national norms.

Meanwhile, students who attended regular-day alternative education programs full time were “more likely to have high growth than low growth on the MCA­II reading exam, although the difference was not statistically significant,” the report stated.

Other findings include:

  • Alternative education secondary students generally had lower attendance and graduation rates than traditional students, but many students showed improvement on these measures;
  • High school students reported high levels of satisfaction with their alternative education experience;
  • School districts provide the primary oversight of alternative education programs, but some school district staff are concerned about the rigor of the curriculum in programs attended by their students in other districts;
  • The Minnesota Department of Education has adopted policies that limit access to targeted services.

The report recommends that the state initiate a pilot project to use and evaluate alternative education student performance, as well as allow all school districts to offer extended time classes, regardless of whether they provide other alternative education programs.

The increase in test results is encouraging, as is the improvement in attendance and dropout rates among those more likely to drop out. This is further evidence that the more students are engaged in school, the more likely they will stay in school and perform better in school. The future of education should include longer school days and longer school years. This much is clear.