correlation of student hours spent in school and success

What sort of information does anyone have about the amount of time a student spends per week in class and the correlation to their progress or success?  I know of all-day programs, half-day programs, programs that meet 2 or 3 evenings/days a week, and those that operate Mon-Fri.  Is it fair to invite students in for 3-6 hours a week and get real progress by the end of a term?  We have had very limited luck with trying to get our students to adopt better study and time-management skills outside of class. We talk this up, and the need to study outside of class a lot, but don't necessarily see students following through.


Great question. Research has not necessarily shown a strong relationship between number of classroom hours and student achievement. In fact, often there is no effect. The curriculum and instructional quality typically have a greater effect on positive student gains.

This report by CAL examined two questions: 

1) What is the relationship between instructional hours and educational level gain on BEST Plus

(2) What is the relationship between intensity of instruction and educational level gain on BEST Plus?

The report showed a positive correlation between both instructional hours (number of hours attended) and intensity of instruction (number of hours attended over a given period of time) and educational gain as reported on an NRS approved assessment.

While teacher effectiveness is the most critical aspect, intensity and duration of instruction is also crucial in impacting student learning and outcomes.

Dr. Daryl Mellard, SME for the LINCS Reading and Writing group and national expert, I believe has conducted some research in this area and could perhaps shed some additional light on this topic.

I think this is a very important discussion for us to have in respect to how adult education programs are designed...





Thanks!  I will check it out.  I do wonder about the differences between ESOL students, who take the BEST Plus assessment, and non-immigrant ABE students who report through TABE scores.  There can be some great cultural differences in terms of attitude and motivation, but mine is only a personal observation.  Also, I believe Best Plus is an oral language assessment vs. the TABE multiple-choice written assessment.  How do we invite Dr. Mellard into this conversation?

Hi Sue,

Gail and Daryl provided some excellent resource links and comments on instructional hours and student achievement. Thanks!

Though a wee dated (1998), this WestEd report highlights how time is used - and not necessarily just more time - can affect student gains. Basically, one hour of class does not necessarily mean one hour of instruction; and we should observe the relationship of additional factors (e.g., quality of curriculum & instruction, student engagement & skill). I am not discounting the value of classroom time. Rather, it is important to look at how something is used, rather than just on aggregate terms.



Hi Sue,

I found several citations and resources which identify the number of instructional hours needed to make a level gain.  Included below are several reports and publications with links to work done in this area.  Like PaulKim mentioned, factors other than instructional hours would impact progress. 

Improving Adult Literacy Instruction:  Options for Practice and Research (2012)

“In fact, 44 percent advanced only one literacy level, as defined by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Reporting System for adult literacy programs. Persistence was also an issue.  Half of the learners who did not advance attended fewer than 50 hours of instruction. Most of those who advanced received 50 or more hours of instruction, taking on average 50 to 149 hours of attendance (usually referred to as “100 instruction hours”) to advance one level.” (p. 207)

Beyond Basic Skills:  State Strategies to Connect Low-Skilled Students to an Employer-Valued Postsecondary Education (2011)

These barriers can influence persistence: many students drop out before they progress even one level. A recent national study found that most adult education students stay in a program for 30 to 80 hours of instruction, yet research generally finds that 100-150 hours are required for students to advance even one grade level.15 According to analyses of enrollment and completion, one-third of developmental education students never enroll in a remedial course and only one-third of students referred to math courses ever complete their sequence of recommended developmental courses.16 By supporting innovative instructional models that accelerate learning, integrate basic skills content with college-level work, and support student success, states can help more basic skills students progress to postsecondary education.  (p. 4-5)

Adult Education Literacy Instruction (2010)

“Three studies, two experimental and one non-experi­mental, suggest that those staying longer in a literacy program make significantly greater gains, and that around 50 to 60 hours of instruction are needed to sig­nificantly boost reading comprehension achievement. One experimental study found that 51 or more hours of attendance were needed to produce significantly greater gains on a combined comprehension and vo­cabulary score (Philliber et al., 1996); GE gain scores were used in the analysis. (p. 103)

Persistence: Helping Adult Education Students Reach Their Goals (2007)

“These studies point to 100 hours of instruction as the point at which a majority of adult education students are likely to show measurable progress, and, therefore, it serves as a benchmark that identifies an effective program. That is, if a majority of students are persisting for 100 hours or more, the program is probably having a measurable impact on at least half of its students.” (p. 3)

Adult Learner Persistence

Research tells us that adult learners need on the average 100 -150 hours in order to make one level learning gain:

  • 100 hours (Fitzgerald & Young, 1997)
  • 110 hours (Rose & Wright, 2005)
  • 150 hours (Comings, Sum and Uvin, 2000 for Mass Inc.)”

Gail Cope, SME, LINCS Program Management Group

Hi all,

This discussion is a great topic for many instructors and program managers to see.

The research that Gail cites is very consistent with other data that I've seen. The sense is that for most of these adult learners who have not been successful, a substantial effort on their part in terms of engagement is critical. Similarly, the instruction needs to be very focused with activities that develop specific skills (e.g., vocabulary, decoding) and then practice with applying those skills in integration activities (e.g., reading for meaning).

A combination of direct instruction, peer activities, and independent work such as through on-line materials are important elements that can support engagement.

The National Research Council's Improving Adult Literacy Instruction provides further information about the instructional and assessment practices that will support learners. The document also emphasizes that proficiency requires extensive practice - thousands of hours. We want to be sure that we are helping the learners to use their time well.



It's interesting because we have both 9 hour per week classes and 22 hour per week classes in ESOL.  In HSE it's hard to get them there more than three days (or evenings)

We do find that the five day classes do better than the 9 hour classes. BUT- two of the day teachers also teach at night and their classes are doing well. So the idea that it's the teacher may have a correlation, but then again the gains are not as large as the daytime classes. 

Also, we find that our exits are between either 20-30 hours and then again between 30-40 hours,  That is more true for HSE than ESOL who leave in less than 20 hours. I think the HSE students start to realize how much they missed in school and how little they know. Although we are reassuring, helpful (even pull individual and small groups for tutoring), make calls, etc, they leave. We have a counselor meeting with them and try to help them through their issues, but some run deep. Unfortuately we do not have the resourses to help people through all their childhood issues. But those who stick it out and let us help them work it through or were able to put aside former problems and move forward, passed the exam (formerly the GED). We are moving to the TAsc. I think the new requirements will definately require much more in hours and motivation.

The ESOL students who have more education in their native country stay the long haul. We find the less education, the less they are motivated and the less they are able to learn study skills and time managament. We see that those who come late and do less also bring their children to school late and take them out more to "go home".  It's hard to change cultural norms about the value and importance of education. We find either they want better for their children or they have no clue that there is better to achieve.

What students learn they learn in class.  They might do their homework, but do not review the material covered in class outside of the classroom.  So if they come to school once or even twice a week, they forget the whole thing , and the instructor has to review what was learned again.  Outside of class students have lots of things to do - job, family, solving problems, etc.  Only in class studying can lead to real progress until students learn how to manage their time, give priorities, and work independently.  I think minimum of 4 days a week of class time or 12 hours might be enough.