FORT VALLEY, Ga. – During the school year, Mondays in this rural Georgia community are for video games, trips to grandma’s house and hanging out at the neighborhood community center.

Don’t bother showing up for school. The doors are locked and the lights are off.

Peach County is one of more than 120 school districts across the country where students attend school just four days a week, a cost-saving tactic gaining popularity among cash-strapped districts struggling to make ends meet. The 4,000-student district started shaving a day off its weekly school calendar last year to help fill a $1 million budget shortfall.

It was that or lay off 39 teachers the week before school started, said Superintendent Susan Clark.

“We’re treading water,” Clark said as she stood outside the headquarters of her seven-school district. “There was nothing else for us to do.”

The results? Test scores went up.

So did attendance — for both students and teachers. The district is spending one-third of what it once did on substitute teachers, Clark said.

And the graduation rate likely will be more than 80 percent for the first time in years, Clark said.

The four days that students are in school are slightly longer and more crowded with classes and activities. After school, students can get tutoring in subjects where they’re struggling.

On their off day, students who don’t have other options attend “Monday care” at area churches and the local Boys & Girls Club, where tutors are also available.

Research is scant on the effect of a four-day week on student performance, said University of Southern Maine researcher Christine Donis-Keller.

“The broadest conclusion you can draw is that it doesn’t hurt academics,” said Donis-Keller, who is with the university’s Center for Education Policy, Applied Research and Evaluation.

Many districts with the shortened schedule say they’ve seen students who are less tired and more focused, which has helped raise test scores and attendance. But others say they saved little money and also saw students struggle because they weren’t in class enough and had too little contact with teachers.

The school district in Marlow, Okla., is switching back to a five-day week after administrators decided students were not being well served by four days. The 440-student district tried a shorter week for the spring semester this year to save $25,000 in operation costs.

“It was harder on the teachers. We were asking the kids to move at a quicker pace,” said district Superintendent Bennie Newton.

The move by Peach County in Georgia gets mixed reviews.

Parents like Heather Bradshaw worry that their children are getting shortchanged on time with teachers.

“I don’t feel like they’re having the necessary time in the classroom,” said Bradshaw, a single mother with a fourth-grade son at one of the county’s three elementary schools. “The schedule has slowed him down.”The trend of four-day school weeks started in New Mexico during the oil crisis of the 1970s and has been popular in rural states where students have to commute a long way.

Georgia, Oklahoma and Maine have changed laws in the last couple of years to allow districts to count the school year by hours rather than days, allowing for a four-day week.