"After operating on a four-by-four block schedule for the past 15 plus years, Cartersville High School will be moving to a more traditional six- or seven-period class day for all students beginning the 2012-2013 school year. The move is being made because of several reasons, which have converged together to warrant the change. Those reasons fall into two major categories: Instructional and financial.
"Leading the list of instructional reasons for the change is the state's move toward what is called the common core curriculum. Georgia has joined 40-plus other states in changing the accountability system which significantly raises the minimum standards for all students. The ramp-up of accountability measures is predicated on more curriculum rigor and relevance. The importance of rigor and relevance was triggered in 2001 when No Child Left Behind legislation was enacted by Congress. The stakes in accountability have continued to rise over the past decade. The new accountability measure, referred to as College and Career Ready Performance Index, is forcing schools across the nation to re-examine schedules and instructional methods. It is incumbent on the school system to place all of our students in the best light to be able to compete for both college and job opportunities.
"It is believed that the demands of the common core will be better addressed using a traditional schedule rather than a block structure. Under a four-by-four block, students take four full-year courses in each semester equal to 18 weeks. Each of the four classes lasts for 90 minutes each day for 135 hours a course. In the second semester, students take another set of four different classes. A six- or seven-period 'traditional' schedule allows students to take most courses over a year-long period. With the emphasis in the common core on depth of knowledge and skills, a student will spend more class time in each subject over the course of the year than in a block structure with 150 to 180 hours versus 135.
"There is no conclusive research that shows that any one schedule is better than another. Few schools have changed from traditional to block in the past few years; several have changed from block to traditional for the same reasons Cartersville is now making the move. There are advantages and disadvantages with each of the six-period and seven-period schedule options. The high school staff will be making a recommendation by Dec. 6 for consideration. A strong argument can be made for either schedule. A seven-period day gives more elective opportunities for students; a six-period day gives more class time per day for each subject. This will not be an easy decision to make.
"Georgia is also phasing out the required High School Graduation Tests in English, math, science and social studies. The GHSGT is being replaced with a greater emphasis on required End-of-Course Tests. In courses where the state mandates an EOCT, the grade on this assessment has counted 15 percent but will now count 20 percent of the final grade. Students will not be required to pass the EOCT, but must pass the class where these assessments exist -- ninth-grade Lit/Comp, American Lit/Comp, Math I, Math II, Biology, Physical Science, U.S. History, and Economics. The state has indicated its intent to add additional required EOCT for other classes in the future. It is also believed that having year-long courses for English/Language Arts will enable teachers to address increased writing requirements in the new accountability measures. The new common core assessments will also utilize a strong emphasis on writing skills. Georgia students will still be required to pass the High School Writing Test in order to graduate."
Advantages of a six- or seven-period day over the block include:
* Increased instructional hours per year-long course -- 180 hours on a six-period day, 150 hours on a seven-period day versus 135 on a four-by-four block.
* Feedback from college/university registrars indicate that many college freshman are not prepared to juggle the rigors of a full college load when the student has been used to taking only two core academic classes at a time, typical for the majority of students on a four-by-four block. Under the block, many students have taken a less than rigorous course load during their senior year. This is a disservice to our graduates going on to college.
* The increased accountability measures the reading comprehension and ability of students at much higher expectations than current assessments. Students graduating are expected to read technical manuals at a much higher level. Having more instructional time per course lends itself to more advanced reading opportunities.
* Changing to a traditional schedule will require more textbooks, but in the state textbook adoption cycle 2012-2013 is a lower budget year for textbooks. Therefore, it is beneficial for the system to have an increase in textbook demand for the FY 2013 budget year rather than in other years.
* It is easier for students transferring in to a six- or seven-period day rather than on a block schedule. We do live in a transient and mobile society and students often find it difficult to change schools. Moving into a traditional schedule helps ease that transition. Bartow County schools are already on a seven-period day, having changed this past year.
* With the increased availability of credit recovery and virtual school programs, students in a traditional schedule have more opportunities to make-up for course failures which was an argument for the block schedule.
* A six- or seven-period day provides for a more economical staffing model for the high school. Block schedules require more teachers. Moving to the new schedule next year will enable the school system to transition the necessary loss in staffing need so that ideally no teacher will have to be laid off. If the system waits to make the change for a year or two, the likelihood of layoffs will increase significantly. It is our intent, that necessary reductions in staff be handled through normal attrition, such as retirements, re-locations, etc., as much as possible over the next two school years.
Disadvantages of changing from the block schedule include:
* There will be a reduction in elective course offerings for students. However, the system is committed to continuing a strong fine arts program for our students.
* Less planning time for teachers -- they have a 90-minute period each day with the block. Teachers in grades K-8 have far less than 90 minutes of daily planning now.
* A reduction in staff needs does not totally preclude the necessity of future layoffs.
* Change is difficult for everyone.
The system continues to monitor the financial outlook closely. All indications from state and federal sources are trending for a continuation of loss of revenue from both of these venues. Therefore, it is incumbent on the system to continue to look for ways to maximize its funding with as little impact on the instructional program as possible. Over the past few years, the system has made necessary cuts with very little impact. The only way to keep up with this trend is to start looking at personnel cuts which may include furlough days, eliminating positions, or shortening the school year. All of these strategies are currently being utilized by most school systems throughout the state. Locally, the school system has not raised taxes during the time of this economic downturn.
The system will continue to be cognizant of the economic situation of our community and state while at the same time endeavor to provide a quality education program for our students and a competitive and quality work place for our employees.
Questions or comments about the change can be sent to Ken Clouse, Assistant Superintendent, email@example.com, or Peggy Cowan, Director of Curriculum, firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions or comments about the six-period versus seven-period Day can be sent to Jay Floyd, CHS Principal, email@example.com, or Bryan Edwards, Assistant Principal, firstname.lastname@example.org.