Board of Ed. eyes dropping block schedule

Published 3:28 am Wednesday, December 5, 2001

Staff Writer
The Escambia County Board of Education is considering dumping the block scheduling that was installed four years ago and replacing it with a seven-period day at the county's three high schools.
Renee Wilkins, supervisor of secondary curriculum, conducted research at the request of Superintendant Buck Powell regarding the affects of the block schedule and presented her findings to the board during a meeting Thursday.
Wilkins said there were concerns regarding the block schedule's affects on the academic success of the overall student population.
She said a survey was sent to local teachers last year asking which type of scheduling they prefer for students. The results were very close with 46 choosing a seven-period day, 44 liking the block system and seven voting for a modified block.
The Escambia County schools went to the block schedules four years ago. They had previously been under a six-period schedule.
The block system allows for students to take four classes per semester, or eight classes per school year. Each class is 96 minutes long.
The school system also sent questionnaires to other systems in the state. Weaver said many of the schools that had gone to block are in the process of changing back to a period system.
Weaver said changing back to periods would require effort by teachers and administration, but that it may be the best thing for students.
She said several of the "advantages" of the block system have not come to be in the Escambia County school system. One of those was that the system expected fewer failing grades. Weaver said for the most part that has not been the case.
Also, she said the idea that the block system would create more elective classes has not happened because teachers are getting tied up teaching failing students.
Another perceived advantage of the block system was that it would cut down on students' time in the hallways between classes. Weaver said this has happened, but added that the time students spend in the halls during class time has increased. She said teachers are more likely to let students go on bathroom and water breaks when they are in class for 96 minutes.
Weaver also addressed the 96-minute teacher planning period. She said that time is justified for high school teachers to plan their curriculum, but added that the time is not always used wisely.
The block system was also suppose to have a positive affect on the schools' dropout rates. However, those rates have increased since the change.
She said the 96-minute classes may be too long for many students.
Retention may also be problem under the block system as students may have to wait many months before taking the next level of a particular subject.
Weaver said the school system is now being graded on a ninth grade writing assessment test as part of the state's accountability procedures. She said under the block scheduling, there may be students who have to take the test without having a ninth grade writing course.
Weaver said the block system has also had an affect on the amount of homework students do.
She also said that students who miss have a hard time catching up and that those in extracurricular activities such as band and athletics must schedule those classes at the expense of their academic classes if they are taking them year round. She said it is very tough to schedule band both semesters or to play both football and baseball if the student is attempting to meet a high academic standard.
She also said that student testing on the Junior College Comp Exam have dropped to very disappointing levels since moving to the block system.
The block also has made it possible for very good students to complete their academic programs by the end of the first senior year semester. Meaning they come to school in the second semester with no classes to take.
Teresa Hultz, a teacher of Flomaton, said she was sent as a representative of that school and that they overwhelmingly support the block system.
Prinicipals from both Escambia County High School and W.S. Neal were on hand and both said they support changing to a seven-period day.
Superintendant Buck Powell said students with poor grades don't seem to be helped any by the block schedule.
The board took no action on the measure. It will have to sit on the table for 30 days before a motion can be made to adopt or decline the change.

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