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February 19, 2007

You Can’t School Mother Nature: UMBC Professor Examines Impact of Snow Days on Student Achievement

Poorest-Performing Schools Hardest Hit by Unscheduled School Closures

Kavan Peterson

Office: 410-455-1896
Cellphone: 443-739-3052

Feb. 19, 2007

BALTIMORE -- UMBC Associate Professor Dave Marcotte received a $34,000 grant in January to do a first-of-its-kind study on the impact of weather-related school closings on student achievement. He will examine student performance on the Maryland State Assessments (MSAs) over a 12-year period to determine how test scores are impacted by snow and subsequent school closings.

The percentage of students meeting state standards on Maryland’s math and reading assessment tests can drop by an estimated 3-to-5 percent during years of heavy snowfall, which can have a serious impact on schools under pressure to boost student achievement mandated by the Federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, said Marcotte, associate professor of public policy and researcher at the Maryland Institute for Policy Analysis and Research (MIPAR) at UMBC.

Marcotte’s preliminary findings indicate that the state’s poorest-performing schools are hit hardest by snow days. Under NCLB, schools nationwide are required to improve student achievement annually so that 100 percent of students are proficient by the school year 2013-14. Currently, about one-third of Maryland students meet state standards in reading and math and most state schools are required to raise performance by 5 percent for reading and 6 percent for math annually.

“The larger impact of snow days on poor-performing schools raises troubling questions about whether and how they can meet No Child Left Behind mandates for 100 percent proficiency,” Marcotte said. “It’s easy to see how a bad winter can wipe out any real gains in student achievement.”

The grant was awarded in January by the Spencer Foundation, a Chicago-based philanthropic nonprofit that has funded $250 million in grants to support research investigating ways in which education can be improved around the world. The results of the study will be released before the end of the year.

Maryland students in the 3rd, 5th and 8th grades have been taking math and reading assessments since 1993. By statute, the tests are administered on the same day statewide, so each day lost to an unscheduled closure results in fewer hours of instructional time before test day. The 180-day school year has up to six snow days built into it and is adjusted at the end of the year by adding or subtracting days, but such adjustments occur after the state tests are administered, generally during the last week of April or first week of May.

“Each day a school closes, teachers, curricula and school resources, no matter how effective, can have no impact on student learning,” Marcotte said.

Snowfall in Maryland ranges from 15 to 20 inches in the Baltimore-Washington corridor to over 100 inches annually in the state’s westernmost county of Garrett, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC).

School closures vary widely by year and county. Baltimore County students, for example, lost nine school days in 2000 due to inclement weather but lost zero days two years later. Prince George’s County students lost a record of 21 days in 2002-03, when schools closed in response to a student being shot at a Prince George’s middle school during the Washington-area sniper’s reign of terror.

To see how your school or county measures up on student achievement, go to the 2006 Maryland Report Card.


The Maryland Institute for Policy Analysis and Research (MIPAR) at UMBC serves as its premier center for applied scholarly research on significant issues of public policy, and links the analytical resources of the University with public policy makers in the state and region.

Posted by mlurie at February 19, 2007 2:39 PM