Schools keep fall break schedule despite test dates

Week off school overlaps with two of three PSAT days


The Douglas County School board has decided it will not change the district's fall break for the 2020-21 school year after staff recommended the school board reschedule it to one week later.

The suggestion came after 3,500 juniors last year missed out on their chance to take the PSAT, part of the SAT test suite usually administered to high school juniors and a requirement to enter the National Merit Scholarship Program.

The district's 2019-20 fall break overlapped with the first two of three dates available to take the PSAT. That left the district with only the alternate test date on Oct. 30, 2019 for students to take the test.

When a snow event that same day forced DCSD to cancel the PSAT, juniors lost their chance to take it. The PSAT generates about $2 million in scholarships for district students.

Superintendent Thomas Tucker said the college board allowed students who missed the PSAT to take the SAT and then calibrate those scores, but not all scholarships organizations will accept the SAT.

The same or a similar scenario could play out in 2020, when fall break runs from Oct. 12-16. The district's fall break again overlaps with two of the three dates available to take the PSAT. If any event forces DCSD to cancel, students will miss out on the PSAT once more.

A survey sent to 77,000 people on the issue garnered 21,000 responses, about 16,000 of which were parents. Chief Assessment and Data Officer Matt Reynolds said 75% of participants supported moving fall break.

The decision to keep fall break as scheduled was not cut and dry, board President David Ray said. He voted in favor of changing the schedule, despite leaning against that option, so the 4-2 vote would better reflect how torn the board felt, he said. Director Susan Meek was absent.

Director Anthony Graziano voted in support of changing the schedule. From the board's first discussion on the issue, at its Feb. 4 meeting, Graziano said he preferred to prioritize students' need to take the PSAT.

“A good case has been made to adjust this so we can avoid any potential issues like this in the future,” he said.

Director Christina Ciancio-Schor said “there's no win in this particular situation.”

Multiple directors said they heard from parents and staff who had already booked trips for the 2020 fall break and feared moving it would disrupt classrooms. Teachers and students would likely continue with their plans and miss school, some directors said.

Director Kevin Leung felt it was unlikely the issue would unfold again — 2019 was the first year district officials could recall a snow event canceling the test. Director Elizabeth Hanson believed it was too late in the school year to reschedule fall break.

Director Krista Holtzmann said she was hopeful the mishap won't happen this fall. She noted the survey found 37% of high school staff did not favor moving fall break.

“I think you have very clearly shown that there needs to be a change to accommodate the PSAT in the future. That isn't even a question for me. I think that needs to happen, but the question for me is whether it needs to happen in 20-21 or if we can put it off a year,” she said.


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