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REL Midwest Ask A REL Response

Educator Effectiveness

December 2019


What does the research say about the relationship between instructional time and academic outcomes for mathematics and literacy in grades 4-8?


Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest protocol, we conducted a search for research reports, descriptive studies and policy overviews on the relationship between instructional time and academic outcomes for mathematics and literacy in grades 4-8. In addition, we focused on identifying resources related to the minimum required instructional time and if there are different recommendations for instructional time for students achieving below grade level. For details on the databases and sources, keywords, and selection criteria used to create this response, please see the Methods section at the end of this memo.

Below, we share a sampling of the publicly accessible resources on this topic. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The search conducted is not comprehensive; other relevant references and resources may exist. For each reference, we provide an abstract, excerpt, or summary written by the study’s author or publisher. We have not evaluated the quality of these references, but provide them for your information only.

Research References

Checkoway, A., Gamse, B., Velez, M., Caven, M., de la Cruz, R., Donoghue, N., et al. (2012). Evaluation of the Massachusetts Expanded Learning Time (ELT) initiative. Year Five Final Report: 2010-2011. Volume I. Bethesda, MD: Abt Associates. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The Massachusetts Expanded Learning Time (ELT) initiative was established in 2005 with planning grants that allowed a limited number of schools to explore a redesign of their respective schedules and add time to their day or year. Participating schools are required to expand learning time by at least 300 hours per academic year to improve student outcomes in core academic subjects, broaden enrichment opportunities, and improve instruction by adding more planning and professional development time for teachers. Schools draw upon state resources as well as technical assistance and support from Massachusetts 2020 (Mass 2020) and Focus on Results to implement expanded learning time in their schools. The first cohort of ten ELT schools (Cohort 1) received implementation grants to begin operating their expanded days in the 2006-07 school year; in 2007-08, a second cohort of nine schools (Cohort 2) began to implement ELT; and a third cohort of nine schools began in 2008-09, resulting in an initial group of 26 ELT schools in the Commonwealth. There has not been additional funding for new ELT schools since then. In the most recently completed school year, 2010-11, 19 schools continued to implement the initiative. Abt Associates Inc. is completing a multi-year evaluation of ELT that examines both the implementation of ELT in the funded schools, and the outcomes for schools, teachers, and students hypothesized to result from effective ELT implementation. This report describes current implementation and outcomes for an initiative that has been underway for five full academic years. The staggered nature of the ELT initiative means that as of the end of the 2010-11 school year, participating schools have completed five, four, and three years of implementation (Cohorts 1, 2, and 3, respectively).”

Education Commission of the States. (2011). A state policymaker’s guide to expanding learning time. Denver, CO: Author. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Several decades of research have suggested a meaningful relationship between time and learning, where the amount of time students spend engaged in learning is strongly associated with their level of achievement. Among schools that have expanded the day and/or year, researchers have found that such a strategy can be quite effective, especially with at-risk students. While President Obama has declared that ‘the challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom,’ some states are finding it necessary to consider ‘reducing’ time in school to save money. This paper provides guidelines for state policymakers in developing policies related to instructional time.”

Edwards, J. (2012). Mapping the field: A report on expanded-time schools in America. Boston, MA: National Center on Time & Learning. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Expanding learning time has become a leading strategy for closing the achievement and opportunity gaps that plague high-poverty schools in particular. With more time, educators are able to deepen the curriculum, embed enrichment classes and activities, and engage in frequent opportunities for teacher collaboration and professional development. Despite the accelerating momentum to expand learning time, little is known about the universe of expanded-time (ET) schools across the country. This remains largely a decentralized movement, with entrepreneurial endeavors that break from the conventional school calendar still the predominant mode for becoming an ET school. In an effort to better define and identify the diverse and growing cohort of ET schools, the National Center on Time & Learning (NCTL), an organization dedicated to re-designing and expanding school time to improve opportunities and outcomes for all students, has developed a database to collect and present the latest information. Documenting the 1,002 schools in the NCTL Database as of January 2012, ‘Mapping the Field’ provides analysis of meaningful trends and key characteristics in this exciting educational arena. Like NCTL’s first expanded-time schools report, which was released in late 2009, the data explored in these pages represent a snapshot of an ever-changing and burgeoning field. Indeed, as the data make clear, that field is dynamic, like the database itself, with new ET schools being identified and added on an on-going basis. By capturing, analyzing, and presenting the relevant school-level data from this diverse group of schools, the following report illuminates what one knows today about the wide range of schools providing more time for teaching and learning than the conventional schedule and calendar allow.”

Farbman, D. A. (2015). The case for improving and expanding time in school: A review of key research and practice. Updated and revised February 2015. Boston, MA: National Center on Time & Learning. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “How can more time in school lead to more learning and, by extension, greater success in life? As this report will highlight, both research and practice indicate that adding time to the school day and/or year can have a meaningfully positive impact on student proficiency and, indeed, upon a child’s entire educational experience. Such enhancement can be especially consequential for economically disadvantaged students, who tend to enter school trailing behind their more affluent peers academically, continue to lag as they proceed through each grade, and have fewer opportunities outside of school for learning. For these millions of students, more time in school can be a path to equity. The evidence makes clear that expanding school time holds this potential because, when planned and implemented well, it confers three distinct, though interdependent, benefits to both students and teachers: (1) More engaged time in academic classes, allowing broader and deeper coverage of curricula, as well as more individualized learning support; (2) More dedicated time for teacher collaboration and embedded professional development that enable educators to strengthen instruction and develop a shared commitment to upholding high expectations; and (3) More time devoted to enrichment classes and activities that expand students’ educational experiences and boost engagement in school. This report explores these three benefits, which emerge as a redesigned education, built upon a longer school day and year, opens up new learning and growth opportunities. Using a mix of formal research inquiries and effective practices studies from the field, evidence is considered that demonstrates how time relates to each of the three benefits. Along with explicating the value that more time in schools can bring, the research also makes clear that time is a resource which must be used well and in concert with a continuous focus on quality implementation to realize its full potential.”

Kaplan, C., & Chan, R. (2012). Time well spent: Eight powerful practices of successful, expanded-time schools. Boston, MA: National Center on Time & Learning. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This report reshapes the field for expanded-time schools by outlining specific practices that can lead to dramatic increases in student achievement and preparation for success in college and the workforce. This report offers an in-depth examination of 30 expanded-time schools serving high-poverty populations with impressive track records of student success, and demonstrates how these schools leverage their additional time in order to implement other critical reforms. Methodology and Data on Profiled Schools are appended.”

Kidron, Y., & Lindsay, J. (2014). The effects of increased learning time on student academic and nonacademic outcomes: Findings from a meta-analytic review (REL 2014–015), Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Appalachia. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “REL Appalachia conducted a systematic review of the research evidence on the effects of increased learning time. After screening more than 7,000 studies, REL Appalachia identified 30 that met the most rigorous standards for research. A review of those 30 studies found that increased learning time does not always produce positive results. However, some forms of instruction tailored to the needs of specific types of students were found to improve their circumstances. Specific findings include: (1) Increased learning time promoted student achievement in mathematics and literacy when instruction was led by a certified teacher and when teachers used a traditional instructional style (i.e., the teacher is responsible for the progression of activities and students follow directions to complete tasks); (2) Increased learning time improved literacy outcomes for students performing below standards; and (3) Increased learning time improved social-emotional skills of students with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.”

Kolbe, T., Partridge, M., & O’Reilly, F. (2012). Time and learning in schools: A national profile. Boston, MA: National Center on Time & Learning. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This report takes a first step toward filling the need for more information on time allocated to schooling. Data from the federal Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), the only nationally representative data source available for identifying variations in time across schools, are used to measure and document in-school time among the nation’s traditional public, private and charter schools. The SASS does not collect data on student performance, and as a result does not support an exploration of the relationship between time and student learning. Nevertheless, the SASS is an important resource for understanding the incidence and distribution of time in schools, as well as trends over time. The authors primarily use data from the most recent administration of the SASS (school year 2007-08) to provide a ‘state of the field’ report, which could be used in the future to monitor how time in school changes as state and federal policies continue to emphasize time as a turnaround and reform strategy. SASS data from the 1999-00 and 2003-04 administrations are also used to describe trends over time. In this report, the authors profile the amounts of in-school time allocated to traditional public, private and charter schools, and the ways in which schools use this time for key activities related to student learning and achievement. More specifically, the profile describes: (1) Average amounts of time children spend in school, and the differences among students enrolled in traditional public, private, and charter schools; (2) The extent to which schools have added more time to their school year and day, and which schools are more or less likely to do so; and (3) Differences among schools in the use of time during the school day. In each case, the authors present nationally representative estimates for regular schools; excluded from their analyses were state-operated special schools, schools that exclusively served students with special needs (e.g., special education), and Kindergarten or pre-school only schools. Where possible they compare traditional public schools to their private and charter school counterparts; however, in some instances, the sample size for private and charter schools is sufficiently small that they are able to report only findings for traditional public schools. The report begins with an overview of state policies governing in-school time. Within this context, they subsequently present estimates for the average length of the school year and day among traditional public, private and charter schools, as well as the frequency with which schools lengthen their school year or school day beyond the national average and the extent to which schools adopt a 12-month calendar. This is followed by a discussion of differences between extended and non-extended day schools in how they use time during the school day. The report concludes with a discussion of key findings and directions for future policy analysis and research.”

McMurrer, J. (2008). Instructional time in elementary schools: A closer look at changes for specific subjects. Arts Education Policy Review, 109(6), 23–27. Retrieved from Full text available from

From the ERIC abstract: “As part of an ongoing study of the impact of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), the Center on Education Policy (CEP) conducted a deeper analysis of 2006-07 survey data first reported in July 2007 on the amount of instructional time devoted to specific subjects. This follow-up report takes a closer look at the shifts in instructional time for various elementary school subjects. Like the 2007 report, it is based on CEP’s nationally representative survey of 349 responding school districts conducted between November 2006 and February 2007. This report also takes a closer look at the magnitude of the increases in time for elementary English language arts (ELA) and math instruction and the decreases for other subjects. The report shows that since NCLB took effect in 2002, relatively large shifts in the amount of instructional time allotted for various subjects in a large number of districts. Forty-four percent of all districts nationwide have added time for English language arts and/or math, at the expense of social studies, science, art and music, physical education, recess, or lunch.”

McMurrer, J., Frizzell, M., & Yoshioka, N. (2015). Expanded learning time: A summary of findings from case studies in four states. Washington, DC: Center on Education Policy. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Many low-performing schools across the nation have increased learning time in response to federal requirements for the School Improvement Grant (SIG) program. The conditions governing federal waivers of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) also require certain schools to redesign the school day, week, or year to include additional time for student learning and teacher collaboration. Furthermore, the waivers allow greater flexibility to redirect certain federal funding streams toward increased learning time. This report by the Center on Education Policy (CEP) at the George Washington University summarizes the findings of a series of case studies of 17 low-performing schools within 11 school districts in four geographically dispersed states—Connecticut, Colorado, Oregon, and Virginia. This research examined state and local efforts to expand learning time through the unique lens of state and local responses to specific federal provisions. In particular, we investigated the strategies being used by the case study sites to meet federal requirements and encouragements for increased or expanded learning time, and the challenges, successes, and impacts associated with this implementation process. All four states in this study have been granted ESEA waivers. Most of the case study schools received SIG funds and/or were identified as ‘priority’ schools under ESEA waivers, meaning that they were among the lowest-performing schools in their state. From October 2013 through March 2014, CEP staff and consultants visited all of the participating districts and the majority of participating schools. We interviewed 49 education leaders, including 13 state education officials, 18 district leaders, and 18 school principals. We also gathered information from state ESEA waiver applications and other relevant state, district, and school policy documents. As explained later in this report, different federal initiatives use different terminology and definitions for provisions that have the common goal of adding time for student learning and for teacher collaboration, professional development, or planning. For simplicity’s sake, this report uses the umbrella term of ‘expanded learning time,’ or ELT, to describe these various approaches. Throughout this report, the findings are supported by examples from specific districts and schools. Key findings included: (1) Case study schools are meeting the federal requirements to expand learning time, but ELT is costly, and the short-term nature of federal grants is causing difficulties for some schools; (2) Case study districts and schools differ in when and how they expand learning time; (3) State, district, and school leaders participating in these case studies often emphasized that improving the quality of instruction in low-performing schools was just as important as increasing the quantity of instructional time; (4) There was evidence of improved student outcomes in some, but not all, of the case study schools; however, several schools were in the early stages of ELT implementation at the time of the study; (5) Few case study districts and schools were taking advantage of the flexibility afforded by waivers to redirect certain federal funding streams to ELT; (6) States and districts varied in their level of involvement and support for ELT initiatives in schools; (7) Implementing ELT sometimes required negotiations with teachers’ unions about such issues as contractual time and compensation; and (8) Teacher and student fatigue from longer school days was cited as a challenge in implementing ELT in all four states studied. More detailed information can be found in the individual reports developed by CEP for each of the four states and 11 districts.”

Morton, B. A., & Dalton, B. (2007). Changes in instructional hours in four subjects by public school teachers of grades 1 through 4. (NCES 2007-305). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This brief report uses data from five administrations of the Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) to examine the distribution of weekly instructional hours by regular, full-time first- through fourth-grade teachers of self-contained classrooms in four subjects: English/reading/language arts; arithmetic/mathematics; social studies/history; and, science. Results show that combined teacher instructional time in the four subjects has increased between 1987-88 and 2003-04. However, examining each subject shows that this increase is largely due to an overall increase in the amount of instruction in English and mathematics. In the two most recent administrations, 1999-2000 and 2003-04, weekly teacher instructional hours in English increased while instructional time in mathematics, social studies, and science decreased. Despite the fluctuations in hours of instruction, total instructional time in the four subjects as a percentage of the student school week did not change significantly between 1987-88 and 2003-04; it was about 67 percent of the school week in each year.”

Mulvaney Hoyer, K., & Sparks, D. (2017). Instructional time for third- and eighth-graders in public and private schools: School year 2011–12 (NCES 2017-076). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has published a number of reports documenting the amount of time that students have received instruction in various subjects. Using more recent data and similar measures, this Statistics in Brief builds on prior reports to provide an updated look at time spent on instruction in various subjects. Specifically, the brief presents information on the amount of time that students in grades 3 and 8 spent on different subjects in 2011-12 and compares how, if at all, this time varied by subject and school sector. Additionally, previous findings indicate that the amount of time spent on specific subjects varies across grade level (Perie, Baker, and Bobbitt 1997). This brief extends the discussion of grade-level variation in the amount of time spent on four core subjects (English, mathematics, social studies, and science) to grades 3 and 8. … The data for this brief come from the NCES 2011-12 SASS Public and Private School Principal data files. The public and private school principal questionnaires asked principals whether their schools enrolled students in grades 3 and 8 and, if they did, to provide information on the length of a typical full week of school for students in these grades. Key findings included: (1) In public schools, a typical full week of school was 33.0 hours long for third-graders and 33.8 hours long for eighth-graders; (2) In private schools, a typical full week of school was 33.1 hours long for third-graders and 33.5 hours long for eighth-graders; (3) On average, third-graders in both public and private schools spent a greater amount and a larger percentage of time on instruction in English, followed by mathematics, than on any other subject; (4) On average, eighth-graders in both public and private schools spent a greater amount and a larger percentage of time on instruction in English than on any other subject; and (5) Third-graders in public schools spent more time—in terms of both the amount and the percentage of time—on English than did eighth graders. Meanwhile, third-graders in public schools spent less time on social studies and science than did eighth-graders. No statistically significant differences were found in the amount or percentage of time that third-graders and eighth-graders in private schools spent on English, mathematics, social studies, or science.”

Rangel, E. S. (2007). Time to learn. Research Points, 5(2). Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Calls for more school instructional time are coming from multiple quarters. Academic standards and frequent assessments have changed the nature, but not the length, of the instructional day. Schools find themselves ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul,’ taking time from the arts, recess, and physical education to give to reading and math, subjects that carry heavy weight in state accountability systems. Distinguishing between Allocated Time (the time on the school calendar for a given content area) and Academic Learning Time (the amount of time students are working on rigorous tasks at the appropriate level of difficulty for them), mitigated by Student Engagement (the time students are paying attention), the paper advocates that it may at times be necessary to provide additional Allocated Time to the school calendar, while recognizing that scheduling and budgetary challenges exist. By confirming that extended allocations of time for core curriculum are used for high-demand academic learning adapted to individual student needs, and focusing additional funds on the students who need it most, many of these barriers may be overcome.”


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • “Expanded learning time”

  • Instructional time

  • Minimum “instructional time” “academic achievement”

  • National Center on Time & Learning

  • “Time factors (Learning)” “academic achievement” “elementary secondary education”

  • “Time factors (Learning)” minimum

Databases and Search Engines

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched IES and Google Scholar.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published over the last 15 years, from 2004 to present, were included in the search and review.

  • Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations.

  • Methodology: We used the following methodological priorities/considerations in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types—randomized control trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, and so forth, generally in this order, (b) target population, samples (e.g., representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected), study duration, and so forth, and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, and so forth.
This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL Midwest) at American Institutes for Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Midwest under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0007, administered by American Institutes for Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.