Guest Column: Why more pupil-free days are important

Delivering quality instruction to students requires that teachers take concentrated time to look at the outcomes of students’ work. In a quality school system, teachers must collect and review student the results of students’ daily tests, quizzes, activities, project and other assessments and apply that information to their instructional practices.

It is imperative for effective teachers to incorporate the results of student learning into how they teach the next lesson and into the ways in which they pace and plan the whole unit of instruction. This work is increasingly labor intensive. Teachers must analyze student data in a setting where they have the opportunity to collaboratively ask the critical questions: What did we want students to learn? Does the student data show if they learned it? What will we do when we find, in some cases, that students didn’t master a concept?

The dialogue generated by these questions allows teachers to redesign lessons based on input from colleagues whose students may have demonstrated more success in the learning. It allows them to create completely new lessons together, or to create new and improved activities for students to practice and demonstrate their mastery of a lesson.

In countries with high student achievement results, these practices are routine. The time to collaborate is structured. It is an expected and scheduled component of a teacher’s work day. Students are dismissed to study halls and teachers meet to review students’ work, every day. They use the direct results of student instruction — the outcomes of daily tests, quizzes or assessments — to change how they will teach the next lesson or reteach a difficult one. Teachers engage in this exercise with their colleagues, altering the lessons based upon the teaching practices of their fellow instructors who experienced better student results in their classrooms. There is the on-going opportunity to identify students who need more help and to target the very best way to provide them with instructional support. These outcomes are exactly the focus of the La Cañada Unified School District collaboration days.

The school district understands that “teaching smarter” is not just a function of students’ seat time, but of the quality of the instruction that is delivered on a daily basis. That instruction must be targeted, intentional and based on data.

The additional pupil-free days (Sept. 13, Oct. 19, Feb. 1, and March 1 — the October date has historically been built into the calendared school year) in 2011 – 2012 have been designed as work days for teachers to focus on student results and create ways to improve learning outcomes. Teachers have actually committed to more time in their work year — more time in the classroom on a daily basis to equal the time spent in collaboration and then the collaboration days themselves, when teachers will be analyzing student work, designing new lessons and developing learning plans for specific students.

No funding will be lost as a result of the collaboration days due to the flexibility provided by the state regarding the number of instructional days. The annual number of instructional minutes will actually increase because the Governing Board has lengthened the school day.

For example, the number of annual instructional minutes that the state requires for middle school students is 56,875. In 2010 – 2011 the number of annual instructional minutes for students at La Cañada High School 7/8 was 64,895. By increasing the school day to provide for the pupil-free collaboration days, the annual number of instructional minutes in 2011 – 2012 will be 65,133. At every grade level, the number of annual instructional minutes will be greater than the current 2010 – 2011 school year total. Finally, at every grade level, La Canada’s schools exceed the required number of minutes mandated by the state of California.

WENDY SINNETTE is assistant superintendent of the LCUSD. She will step into the role of superintendent on the departure this summer of Supt. James Stratton. Sinnette can be reached at

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