School Instruction Hours and SAIS Accreditation

Debra P. Wilson
March 2020

Many schools have asked about virtual learning and how SAIS will consider the shift in the context of indicator 3.7, which reads:

            [The school] [p]lans a mission appropriate academic calendar with a minimum of 170 days, or more if required by state law, during which students and teachers engage in teaching/learning activities (Note: for half-day kindergarten programs, one-half day is equivalent to one full day in meeting the 170-day standard).

            Evidence of compliance with state law is adequate, along with a copy of the schools calendar. Note that although state law differs, generally the requirement is a minimum of the equivalent of 180 days of instruction at 4-6.5 hours per day (720-1170 total hours).

During this window of physical campus closures when managing COVID-19 risks, many schools are moving to distance learning to meet the needs of their students. Questions have come up around the number of needed instructional hours for maintaining SAIS accreditation. Obviously, distance learning makes observing learning time much more complex, and we acknowledge that we are collectively engaged in an imperfect experiment at the moment. However, for SAIS’ accreditation compliance purposes:

  • Evidence of compliance with state law is still adequate. Some states are responding to adjusted school schedules with waivers of school day or instructional hour requirements, including waiving a set of make-up days. Schools should track what is happening at the state level both for state and SAIS compliance if using this approach to this indicator.
  • SAIS will allow for virtual learning days to “count” as instructional days. SAIS has allowed for virtual learning for some time and many schools have managed virtual learning for students that have been required to work from home for various reasons to meet instructional day requirements. For schools looking for specific guidance on these days, they should be considering a minimum of 3.5 hours per day of learning activities for all grades above first grade.  Some accreditors and states call these “minimum days.” Activities may include a wide range of learning experiences, including but not limited to educational videos, engaging in a virtual classroom, group work, readings, written work, worksheets, app-based activities, activity packets, textbook assignments, interactive hands-on activities done at home, and other activities.  Teachers should be planning around these requirements, and schools should be reviewing those plans. Lower grades are at the discretion of school administrators given the ages of the students involved.
  • Schools may still need to meet state requirements; SAIS’ flexibility may not reflect that of any particular state.

To ensure clarity with state regulators and parents, schools will want to make clear that once distance learning is in place, those days are considered “instructional days” for purposes of meeting state and accreditation requirements. Schools should also be clear that during the physical campus closure, they expect students to spend at least the state’s minimum required number of hours completing distance learning per instructional day. Understanding the current flux all schools are in at this time, SAIS will reach out to schools in June for a copy of the school’s learning plan and an overview of what the school ultimately implemented this spring.

These are minimum requirements for accreditation purposes, and they may not align with what tuition-paying parents might consider in alignment with tuition costs and value, especially those suddenly faced with financial short falls and working from home with children. Schools concerned about fulfilling their value proposition with these minimum days might consider additional learning opportunities through distance learning or extended programs once the physical campus reopens. Many schools also have students engaged in IB, AP, and other classes regulated by other certifiers. Schools should carefully monitor those requirements as well as expectations around successful comprehensive testing.