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FCPS Wants Your Opinion on School Start Date

by Karen Goff — April 7, 2016 at 10:10 am 11 Comments

fcps logoFairfax County Public Schools are seeking opinions on when the school year should begin. The FCPS School Board says it is seriously considering starting school before Labor Day in 2017-18, a change from the traditional September start here.

Parents can access and take the quick online survey to provide their feedback.

The board will vote on the calendar change April 28. If FCPS makes any changes, they would not go into effect until the 2017-18 school year.

The 2016-17 calendar has already been adopted, and school will begin on Sept. 6, 2016.

In Fairfax County, school has for decades started the day after Labor Day in accordance with the Virginia “Kings Dominion” law.

The law is a 1986 Virginia statute that mandates school start in September. When the law was passed, it was helped along by the tourism industry, which said it needed students as staffers (and families to keep on vacationing) through Labor Day. Thus, the amusement park moniker.

Recent attempts to change the law in the Virginia General Assembly have failed.

But the  Code of Virginia (22.1-79.1), allows local Boards of Education to waive the state requirement to begin schools after Labor Day if a district is closed an average of 8 days per year during five of the past 10 years due to weather conditions, energy shortages, power failures, or other emergencies.

FCPS qualifies for the waiver because, during five of the past 10 years, the district has averaged 8.4 days missed due to weather conditions and other events.

Based upon this current average of missed days, the waiver option will continue at least through the 2019-20 school year, FCPS said in a release.

  • Chuck Morningwood

    If FCPS were going to lengthen the school year, I would not have a problem with it. But if they’re planning on closing schools earlier because they can start before Labor day, then I am against it.

    • Gregory Toland

      Why?

      • Chuck Morningwood

        Does it matter?

  • Richard

    Why does no story articulate a reason for starting school before Labor Day? Why is there any desire for this? They’re not talking about lengthening the school year. They’re just talking about shifting the calendar back a few days. I don’t get the reasoning.

    • Eve

      SOLs and national or international exams (IB exams, AP exams, etc.) are given on the same dates regardless of individual schools’ start dates (usually in May). Therefore, students in schools that start after Labor Day have fewer instructional days prior to those exams than students in schools that start before Labor Day. Many find it challenging to squeeze in all the content prior to the exam, especially in years where there are significant days lost to inclement weather. And while the time after the exam could be used to explore topics not on the exam, quite a few students would rather have a little less time for that and more time to cram in that last unit for IB Chemistry HL or AP Calculus B/
      C prior to the exam, or even just a bit more practice for that five paragraph essay in the 5th grade writing SOL (which shows up even earlier in the school year).

      • Chuck Morningwood

        So, now we’re changing the schedule to cater to the needs of a few. Maybe we could get these exams moved to a later date in the year. Not only would our students benefit, but so would every other student.

        • Eve

          AP and IB may affect only a certain percentage of high school students (70+ percent of FCPS seniors, for example, so not exactly just “a few”), but SOLs affect everyone. FCPS does not control the testing dates or windows. They’re set at the state, national or international level by the relevant bodies. One might imagine FCPS could have a little influence for state SOL testing windows, but they’re not going to move those exams to a date after other schools in the state are out or nearly out of school (particularly since some results affect graduation), so that seems vanishingly unlikely. Have you ever actually looked at the exam schedules?

          • Chuck Morningwood

            Begs the question, Eve. Why do I even care about SOLs? Surely, by the time Seniors get to SOLs, they’ve either learned enough to pass, or they haven’t, and a few extra days “of larnin'” won’t make a difference.

            And I find your 70% number for Seniors taking AP or IB courses somewhat less than credible. Would you care to link a report backing your statistics?

          • Eve

            Well, first, apparently you don’t care much about SOLs at all, seeing as you don’t appear to be aware that they happen throughout a student’s school career, starting in 3rd grade, not just in the senior year (they are subject- or course-based exams). If you did some very superficial googling, you would find the list of SOL exams and even the scores of students in FCPS elementary, middle and high schools (where you might note that there are, in fact, students who struggle with these exams). SOL results are a key factor in school performance evaluations and thus affect whether schools are identified as failing (and all of the things that come from that). SOL results are also made public and certainly have an effect on people’s perceptions of the desirability of living in a particular school district, thereby affecting property values and so forth. So, even if you don’t give a rip about the impact on any individual students, you might care about the impact on school expenditures and property values.

            As for the percentage of seniors taking at least one AP or IB exam, that too is pretty easy to find with a little googling. This page will tell you that 70 percent of seniors *passed* at least one AP or IB exam in 2015 (obviously, that means more than 70 percent actually took the courses and exams): http://www.fcps.edu/is/aap/apibtest.shtml. And this one will tell you that in 2013, 72 percent of all FCPS seniors *took* at least one AP, IB, or DE course: http://commweb.fcps.edu/newsreleases/newsrelease.cfm?newsid=2416

          • Chuck Morningwood

            “SOL results are a key factor in school performance evaluations”

            And there you have it. SOLs aren’t about the student; they are about the school. Seniors are the most egregious example of this waste of time and money. Like I said, either they know it by the end of their 12th year, or they don’t, and the SOL isn’t going to make a heck of a lot of difference for them.

            It seems to me that a day spent on a test which is done entirely for the school’s benefit, would be better spent on instructional time.

            BTW, I would suspect that the school system already knows which schools are failing their kids even without the SOL. And, if they don’t, then they have some severe problems with the administration at the school and the administrators of the schools.

          • Eve

            If you imagine I am a fan of intrusive and high stakes testing regimes, you are mistaken. However, since I appear to have misplaced my magic wand, FCPS students who would like a diploma have to pass enough SOLs to get those verified credits, and those 70+ percent of FCPS students who would like to earn some college credits in advance to save money or increase their odds of graduating in four years (or less) are still at a disadvantage of 1-4 weeks of instructional time (depending on the type of exam and the comparison school), and those teachers still have to cram in a year’s worth of curriculum before May (and then spend May and much of June doing extra-curricular things, or perhaps re-hashing the things they were forced to blitz through prior to testing). So, until and unless this situation changes, what’s more important for students academically? Giving them a couple extra weeks to cover required curricula prior to testing? Or having vacation through Labor Day? I’d love for them to have the whole school year to cover the required curricula, but that option is not (yet) on the table.

            I would submit that failure to get a diploma, or failure to acquire the college credit they hope and work for actually do make a difference to students and their families.

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