Originally created 05/11/00

New class schedule affects student performance little



ATLANTA -- An alternative class schedule featuring longer classes is having little effect on the test scores of Georgia high school students whose schools bucked the traditional school day, according to state data.

Students in 128 high schools attend four 90-minute classes each day under block scheduling, instead of a traditional schedule of six 55-minute classes. Schools choose whether to compress a yearlong course into a semester or teach a course all year and alternate days in class.

Block schedules gives students fewer subjects during a school day and teachers more time to utilize different teaching strategies.

The research division of the state Board of Education recently reviewed the test scores of schools that used the block schedules for a full year. Officials said the report, presented to the board today, does not fully evaluate the effectiveness of lengthening class periods.

"Block scheduling appears to be neither improving or harming students on these three measures of statewide achievement," the report stated. The Georgia High School Graduation test, SAT and Advanced Placement Test scores were evaluated.

Columbia County school officials have spent more than two years looking at ways to offer more courses and the benefits of longer class periods.

They considered a four-by-four block schedule that would break up the school year into two semesters -- each with four, 90-minute classes. The current school day consists of six 55-minute classes. Students would earn eight credits in a school year instead of six.

However, concerns about the plan have led school officials to look at other options, such as adding an extra period.

Committees in each school are studying various scheduling changes that could be made.

Oconee County High School near Athens is in the third year of block scheduling its 1,500 students. Officials said they chose the schedule to improve the variety of classes offered to students.

"We didn't do this to raise test scores," said Randy Morrison, director of instruction for the Oconee County School System. "We haven't really seen that much of an impact on student performance."

The high school has spent about $400,000 to implement and run the alternative schedule. Officials also had to concentrate on staff development.

"It really takes a lot of planning to be able to change the pace for students in that 90 minutes," said Beverly Dukes, chairman of foreign language at Oconee High School. She said teachers work hard to keep students involved in learning with projects and other activities, while the traditional schedule doesn't require as much interaction.

"I do like this schedule better," she said. "I think most of us in this department would probably not want to go back."

Two schools in Clarke County and three schools in the Savannah-Chatham school system will implement block scheduling in August, according to the state.

In Northeast Florida, the Duval County School System is expected to ask its school board to expand the scheduling program to all high schools in 2001.

Currently, 11 of the county's 18 high schools use the schedule. No concrete academic benefits have been found, according to the system's staff.

"Counties looking at moving to this schedule need to take advantage of the research that's out there," Morrison said. "And the state (Georgia) needs to support more quantitative research to find out what's really happening."

Reach Shannon Womble at (404) 589-8424 or mnews@mindspring.com.