Implementation, Teaching, and Impact Issues1997
This report summarizes key findings and makes recommendations based on 1997 survey results from principals, teachers, and students in a sample of 25 4 x 4 block scheduled high schools. Areas of inquiry include implementation issues, teaching changes, as well as satisfaction and other perceived impacts of block scheduling.
Growth of Block Scheduling
The 4 x 4 block schedule has grown rapidly in North Carolina , from about two percent of high schools (6) in 1992-93 to about sixty-five percent (254) of high schools in 1996-97.
Why Block Scheduling?
Among North Carolina principals' top reasons for changing to a block schedule are a greater variety of courses, greater focus on fewer courses each semester, and the ability to retake failed courses immediately. These reasons are also among the most important features of block scheduling to students. Many principals also expect 1) teachers to be able to use a greater variety of teaching methods, 2) students to learn more (including increased test scores), and 3) the school climate to improve. Of these three expectations, using a variety of teaching methods is not necessarily realized and the other two cannot be assessed directly with these surveys.
EOC Test Scores
The 1996 and 1997 End-of-Course (EOC) Test scores in five required subjects, adjusted for parent education level and performance before moving to a block schedule, show few statistically significant differences between block and non-blocked schools.
Implementation of the Block Schedule
All sampled schools increased course credits required for graduation, and most schools required more core curriculum credits, allowed for early graduation, offered a second semester Advanced Placement (AP) course with a required prerequisite, and changed their attendance and suspension policies. While the vast majority of schools offered participation in block schedule decision-making in many ways to teachers (e.g., ballots, surveys, school improvement teams), fewer schools offered these opportunities to parents and students. From a traditional schedule, teachers' classes per day decrease by two and the number of students per day decreases by almost half, from an average of 116 to 67 students.
Positive Satisfaction with Block Scheduling: Principals are the most positive, followed by teachers and then students, about many aspects of block scheduling. However, one-sixth of the teachers and one-fourth of the students prefer a traditional schedule. Teachers who are more involved in decision-making are most satisfied. Although they still prefer the block schedule, students who have experience with both block and traditional schedules have significantly lower satisfaction ratings than most block-only students. However, these ratings may result from the disruption in students' high school schedules. Academic Level of Student Matters: Students with average or above average (2.01 -5.0) GPA's are significantly more satisfied with block scheduling than students with lower GPAs (2.0 and below) and AP students (5.01-6.0) ­p; although the lower ratings are still neutral or higher. While lower GPA groups and AP students are also lower than other GPA groups on general attitudes toward school, attitudes toward block scheduling are at least somewhat independent of general attitudes toward school. Generally consistent with student ratings, teachers rate block scheduling as best for above average students and least effective for below average students. Still, students and teachers find the block schedule to be as good as or better than the traditional schedule among and for all types of students. Type of Course Matters: While the block schedule is rated as good as or better than the traditional schedule for all courses, there is general agreement that math, foreign languages, and AP courses, as well as music, are less successful in the block schedule than other courses. Instructional Practices are Mostly Traditional: Traditional teaching methods (e.g., lecture, students working at their desks, and small group work) and traditional assessment practices (e.g., paper and pencil tests) were reported with greatest frequency by both teachers and students. Students, however, report less use of real-world applications and subject matter integration than teachers. Students also report that their teachers spend more time lecturing than teachers say they do. Teachers who are involved more in decision-making report making changes in teaching strategies to a greater extent than less involved teachers. "Essential" Types of Professional Development: The top four professional development activities that teachers and principals rated most "essential" in teaching in a block schedule are pacing guides, visits to other blocked schools, making effective use of class time, and curriculum alignment, and discipline-specific planning. Homework: Almost half of the teachers assign one hour or less of homework per week for their courses and about 60 percent of students report spending less than three hours on homework per week on all their courses. Students with higher GPAs report spending more time on homework than students with lower GPAs (except AP students spend less time than honors students). Students in block scheduled schools report significantly less time on homework than students in non-blocked schools. Less homework time for students in blocked schools may partially be due to these students having a greater percentage of their courses as electives than students in traditional schools, and electives may require less homework time than core or required courses. Students also report, to a moderate extent, that they can do better work than their teachers expect of them.
1. Align key reform goals and continuously improve. School alignment of the vision for block scheduling, use of time, and type of instructional practices is essential. These goals should be continually monitored and refined to determine if they are being implemented and met and how they can be improved. 2. Involve the staff and school community in understanding block scheduling. Principals need to openly discuss block scheduling issues with teachers, students, and parents. Such discussions may shape principals' perceptions of block scheduling and help principals to continually assess teacher, student, and parent perceptions of how block scheduling is working and make adjustments based on this feedback. 3.Involve the staff and school community in decision making. Teachers need to be involved with school administrators in discussions and decisions about the change to block scheduling as well as the means of implementing it, professional development plans for it, and ongoing assessment and review as it is implemented. The school benefits from different opportunities for teacher involvement. Teachers with more involvement are more likely to be satisfied with block scheduling and may have more teaching changes. While the surveys used in this study could not link student and parent involvement with satisfaction, more opportunities for input from parents and students should also pay off in the long term. 4. Explore all scheduling alternatives in the decision-making process. Schools might explore a modified block with some courses offered on 45-minute periods for the full academic year, an A/B block schedule with alternating days throughout the year, and/or year-long AP course optionsto accommodate courses with pacing and sequence problems in the 4 x 4 block schedule. However, these options may make scheduling more challenging and eliminate some desired features of the 4 x 4 block schedule. 5. Focus professional development and support teachers. Focus is needed, at a minimum, on the "essential" planning-related professional development -- pacing guides, visits/discussions with other block scheduled schools, effective use of class time, curriculum alignment, and discipline-specific departmental planning. Professional development should be planned carefully to support the instructional goals of block scheduling and provide on-going support and mentoring. Principals' support for teachers in learning new and varied teaching strategies by encouraging and monitoring the use of instructional strategies is necessary for sustained, continuous improvement. 6. Monitor differential impact on all levels of students. It is important to monitor the varying impact of block scheduling by academic level of students and explore differences that may be found, including teacher strategies in classrooms dominated by students at different academic levels. Efforts should be made to insure that high levels of instruction and diverse learning opportunities are available for all students. 7. Ensure rigorous standards, appropriate instruction, and high expectations for allstudents. All schools need to examine the rigor of their course of study and insure high-level expectations for all students, including the many ways (including types and amounts of homework) these expectations are communicated.