The Affects of Block Scheduling on Student Academic Achievement
The overall strategy of utilizing block scheduling is to organize the day into fewer, but longer, class periods to allow flexibility for instructional activities. Block scheduling is used primarily at middle school and high school levels. Currently, block scheduling is defined as a restructuring of the school day into classes longer than the traditional fifty-minute period classes (Adams & Salvaterra, 1997; Georgia Department of Education, 1998). Gordon Cawelti (1994) agrees with this concept and verifies the definition supplied by Adams and Salvaterra along with the Georgia Department of Education as one that works to meet the needs of all models. The expressed goal of block scheduling programs is to improve student academic performance. Some other benefits of this schedule are increased student and teacher morale, encouragement for the use of innovative teaching methods that address multiple learning styles, and an improved atmosphere on campus. In fact, in a national survey on high schools, Cawelti (1994) identifies block scheduling as one of the primary indicators of major restructuring within a school district.
There are several models to use for the implementation of a block schedule. One of the most common types is the A/B, or alternate-day, schedule in which students take eight, yearlong courses, but attend classes for each of them only on alternating days. Monday, for example, might be taken up by physical education, science, English, and history, while Tuesday's schedule features French, algebra, music, and a second mathematics class. Another popular block plan consists of students taking four courses at a time that meet daily but last only half a school year. Therefore, students might take science in the fall and then not take another science class again until the following year. Such plans are often known as semester block plans, or "four by four plans."
Schools may adopt block scheduling for a wide variety of reasons. Administrators may desire to create more productive and personal relationships among teachers and students while designing a more challenging curriculum that helps students learn concepts in depth, or to develop a more intimate and student-centered learning atmosphere. However, as with all restructuring efforts, successful implementation requires productive planning, time, resources, and coalition building within a school. The objective of this paper is to identify the benefits and effects of block scheduling on higher academic achievement among middle and high school students.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Block Scheduling
Much research has been conducted in the area of block scheduling at the middle and high school level and the impact it has on student learning. Interviews and surveys have been conducted with students, teachers, administrators, parents, and educators to collect data on individual perceptions, while also working to uncover the hard facts, both positive and negative about block scheduling. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the typical school day offers a six-period day with about 5.6 hours of classroom time. However, of this time, only a portion is actually available for direct instruction. Time is lost in passing between classes, maintaining discipline, structuring classroom activities, record keeping, and classroom management.
Most of the published research that includes block scheduling tend to rely on theoretical suggestions and suppositions rather than concrete, research-based findings and recommendations (Evans, Rice, and McCray, 2001). Bateson (1990) found that block scheduling leads to a drop in mathematics and science achievement, with Walker's (2000) study of 345 schools found that block scheduling improved the mathematics assessment. A review of the block scheduling literature conducted by the Texas Education Agency Office of Policy, Planning, and Research (September 1999) concluded that the limited research on the effects of block scheduling has shown very mixed results in key areas of student performance, including attendance, dropout rates, and test scores.
Opponents of the block schedule have many concerns over the effectiveness of an approach that would challenge the traditional methods of lesson presentation, student achievement, and time management. Teachers in schools using a block schedule must plan accordingly for the longer class period. The block system will suffer if teachers do not adequately prepare for the class and supply sufficient student learning activities. However, those teachers in favor of a block schedule find they become more interested in the presented material, thus leading to better and more informative presentations of the lesson. Teachers explained that they felt excitement and challenged with the opportunity to cover information more in-depth that on a traditional schedule.
Enrollment in electives, such as music, often declines when students are forces to choose between academic and enrichment classes (Woronowicz, 1996). However, supporters of the block schedule maintain that teachers have more time to complete lessons and re-evaluate student learning. More class time is available to teach and master key concepts while allowing more creativity on the part of the teacher and the students. Block scheduling presents a longer period of time that allows for individual student research and projects, peer collaboration, and more individualized attention from the teacher to the students.
Another concern about block schedules is that it might be a problem for students who transfer. However, this concern is invalid because the implementation of a block schedule allows students to actually take more courses or up to eight classes per year instead of the six or seven in a traditional plan. While absences might be difficult to make up in a block schedule, some schools have implemented one day of Saturday school each month to give students the opportunity to make up work and class time. Since the traditional schedule has students change class several times a day, discipline problems might arise that might not occur with the block schedule because instructional time is not fragmented as frequently with the transition of changing classes.
Even with all of the current research that shows the positive impact of block scheduling on improved student academic achievement, there are still many opponents who continue to speak out about changing from a traditional six - seven period school day. Viadero (2001) writes about Jeff Lindsey and his battle to locate research that supports his child's school district endorsing a block schedule. He maintains that while he has looked for research that supports the change and proves to be effective, there is little to be found. While researchers have long studied block scheduling, they have yet to identify that it is conducive for improving student learning. The research on the subject suggests that block scheduling is not a sure thing. Hundreds of studies show that districts here or schools there raised test scores when high schools switched to a block schedule. However, the prevailing view among United States researchers seems to be that lengthening class periods is still not a proven means of raising scores on standardized tests of student achievement.
Lindsey admits that the research includes surveys that over the years have shown students to feel less stressed and that their grades go up when their classes are longer. Principals report that discipline also improves when students spend less time in the hallways, moving from class to class. With more flexible scheduling this often means that students can take more courses over their high school careers and quickly retake the ones they fail.
Viadero states that "if the research on block scheduling doesn't spell out a clear success story, one reason may be that the definition of a block schedule itself is muddy." Despite all of the variations of block scheduling, the basic idea in every plan is to carve out bigger "blocks" of time so that students can study their subjects in depth, do more science labs, or undertake more of the action-oriented activities that cognitive psychologists say enhance learning. On a block schedule, classes might range from as short as sixty minutes to as long as two full hours. This compared with the average of roughly forty-five to fifty minutes that students traditionally spend in each class. When the National Education Commission on Time and Learning called on educators to use time in "new, different, and better ways the age-old concept of block scheduling was reinvigorated in 1994.
Comparative Analysis on Block Scheduling and Traditional Scheduling on Academic Achievement
There are many influencing factors in a school that affect the student's academic achievement. Administration, teachers, subjects, and atmosphere are just a few of them. However, scheduling also plays an important role in a student's academic success. Students have the opportunity to be in the classroom longer with teachers and this allows for the development of stronger interpersonal relationships. Teachers get to know the students more personally which enables them to adapt lessons to the interests of the students. The Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement (1995) has stated that "the extensive personal interaction between teacher and student is strengthened through block scheduling."
Research has found many problems with the traditional six to seven class period day. Irmsher (1996) discovered that many feel "the pace is grueling." The average student pursues nine different activities each day within approximately six…