Maryland may shorten school calendar because of snow days

By Michael Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 11, 2010; 12:43 PM

School systems continued wrestling on Friday with the damage snow storms have done to their calendars, with Maryland joining Virginia in contemplating cutting the number of required days of instruction.

Maryland Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said that she thought school systems should be allowed to dip under the 180-day minimum that is required by Maryland state law. She planned to make the recommendation to the Maryland State Board of Education, which has final say over the matter.

"Given the seriousness of this situation, we do have to take into consideration the instructional time but also the safety of students," Grasmick said, calling the snow "historic."

Grasmick said that she was allowing all school systems in the state to hold class on Monday, which is Presidents' Day, though Montgomery and Prince George's County schools have said that they plan to wait until Tuesday to resume classes.

Grasmick also said that would make a decision about pushing back statewide standardized tests in consultation with local superintendents.

Some Virginia school districts canceled the Presidents' Day holiday, and at least one is considering lengthening the school day between March and June. Virginia state lawmakers this week began discussing the possibility of legislation that would lower the number of required days of instruction, allowing for a shorter school year.

"We could slip something into the budget," said Del. Scott A. Surovell (D-Mount Vernon) said on Tuesday. "I got a request from my local school board member saying we should look into it. It's a problem all around the state. It's not just a Northern Virginia thing."

(Here's a full, continuously updated list of school closures.)

School officials through the Washington area must balance practicality with the pressures of standardized tests, which are difficult or impossible to reschedule.

Fairfax County, Falls Church and Manassas plan to hold classes on Presidents' Day to make up for lost time, and Fauquier County said it would do the same if road conditions allow it.

Alexandria educators are considering longer school days. Superintendent Morton Sherman said in a letter to parents that he would recommend "adding significant time to each school day," instead of using holidays or taking time away from spring and summer breaks.

He noted that under Virginia law, Alexandria wasn't required to make up any time at all, because it exceeds minimum standards for hours of instruction. But he said that "we provide the extra hours because we as educators . . . believe that the additional time in the classroom is valuable to our students."

Both Maryland's and Virginia's state departments of education noted this week that there was some flexibility in administering state assessments, with tests required to be given within a range of a few weeks or a month. Some school systems appeared likely to push their statewide tests as late as possible; Prince George's County Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said that he would petition the state to reschedule statewide exams altogether.

But Advanced Placement tests, which are administered nationwide at the same time, leave less flexibility.

"We cannot change the AP testing window after the schedule has been set and released," said Susan Landers, executive director of the Advanced Placement program at the College Board.

In the District, schools spokeswoman Jennifer Calloway said that "cleanup is going well" and that schools fully expected to reopen Tuesday. Other than some broken equipment, no major damage had been found, she said.

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