Howard County's 47,000-plus students may have to spend more time in school next year - 15 minutes a day - after it was reported that high schools have routinely come up short in state-mandated class time, education officials said yesterday.
The proposal to lengthen the school day on tonight's Board of Education agenda occurs after a Sun article last month showed Howard was over-reporting class time to the State Department of Education, which requires that high schools be in session for a minimum of 1,170 hours each academic year.
This year, and in a plan for next year, most Howard high schools will be in session for 1,128 hours. County educators had been telling the state that the school system was in compliance, because officials were counting time spent getting on and off buses as part of the day. Only the time between opening and closing bells should be counted, according to the state.
State officials called the Howard practice unacceptable and have been working with the county to add the missing hours in a school year, which account for more than a month of education over four years of high school. That instruction time could become crucial if passing assessment tests is linked to graduation, which the state is considering.
"A lot of school systems are looking at their calendars right now anyway, actually because of state testing and accountability," said Maryland Assistant Superintendent Ron Peiffer. "I've heard a lot from superintendents that they want to have as much teaching time in before the tests [as they can]."
Tonight, school system representatives will recommend extending Howard's school day from 6 1/2 hours to 6 3/4 hours for at least the high schools, but more likely for all grades, said spokeswoman Patti Caplan - though only the high schools have been falling short on time.
"If we were to just do it at the high school level and not move the elementary and middle schools, it would cost an additional $430,000 in transportation," Caplan said, adding that it was too late to correct the schedule this year.
Peiffer agreed, calling immediate changes "not fair to families" who "don't necessarily like changing schedules in the middle of the year."