Dallas ISD reenvisions school year to tackle learning loss

Dallas ISD's two calendar models will add five weeks of enrichment and intervention to the school year
By: | March 11, 2021
Students pass through the halls at a Dallas ISD elementary school. (Photo: Dallas ISD)Students pass through the halls at a Dallas ISD elementary school. (Photo: Dallas ISD)

Dallas ISD leaders prefer the term “unfinished instruction” to learning loss, and plan to tackle the problem with extended school calendars in 2021-2022.

Beginning-of-year assessments showed 50% of students had fallen behind in math and 30% in reading during spring COVID closures and summer 2020, says Derek Little, Dallas ISD’s deputy chief of academics.

In Dallas ISD’s two new models, the next two school years will start earlier and end later, with an additional five weeks added to the calendar.

Schools that follow the “Intersession Calendar” will provide targeted instruction to about 50% of students during five dedicated weeks throughout the year.

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“These students will have the coolest camp-like experience possible that’s rooted in academic acceleration,” Little says.

There will also be a focus on social-emotional learning in classes that will be kept under a 12-to-1 teacher-student ratio. The rest of the school’s students can take those weeks off.

The other model, “School Day Redesign,” will simply extend the year by five weeks for all students in participating schools. This will give teachers more time to provide enrichment, interventions and project-based learning activities, Little says.

Individual principals and their teams will have leeway in the redesign, such as by rearranging class periods, providing more tutoring and shifting club activities into the school day.

“It will let those schools reconceptualize the whole experience from top to bottom and give them more time to work through scope and sequence,” Little says.

These calendars, which will be in effect for the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years, are not Dallas ISD’s only strategy to reverse learning loss after a year that saw the district offer both in-person and online instruction.

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Schools that do not lengthen their calendars will be able to extend summer school to offer students a combination of enrichment and acceleration. The goal here will be to create a more robust and purposeful program than traditional summer school, which has long been seen as a punitive experience by students.

The district also is investing millions in tutoring over the next two years and will bring afterschool enrichment in-house. Additional instruction offered from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. each day of the week will equate to 70 additional school days.

“We have pivoted our vocabulary and reframed the idea of from unfinished learning, which puts the burden on students, to unfinished instruction,” Little says. “We’re asking what are the things we didn’t do—or didn’t do well—that we need to repair for the benefit of the students.”