Oxford High School Block Schedule
During the 2019-2020 school year, a committee of high school teachers presented their findings on pros and cons of moving Oxford High to a 4x4 block schedule. In their research and planning, they took into consideration the effects on school climate, student learning, and the overall challenges. Their findings were presented to all OHS faculty, and in the spring of 2020, the decision to implement the new schedule during the 2020-2021 school year was confirmed. Reducing the number of class changes was also a factor in the decision during the Covid-19 pandemic.
If you have any questions, please contact OHS Principal Noah Hamilton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is a 4x4 Block Schedule?
With our traditional schedule, a student attends between 6 and 8 classes every day for 50 minutes each. With block scheduling, a student attends a fewer number of classes for a longer period, or block, of time. Instead of 7 classes that last 50 minutes each, a student might attend only 4 classes a day in one semester, but stay in each class for 95 minutes.
In a 4x4 block schedule, classes are divided into quarters. Some classes are only held for one quarter, or 45 days, but other classes take place over two quarters, or 90 days. A student attends the same four classes for 45 days, but then his or her schedule may change.
Schedule Descriptors Traditional Schedule 4x4 Block Schedule Class Time (Minutes per Day) 50 95-100 Number of Days of Instruction 180 90 Classes per Day 6 4 Classes per Year 8 8 Hours per Day 6.5 6.5 Credits 6-8 8
Effects on School Climate
“The majority of teachers, administrators, students, and parents are favorable to block scheduling, even after the sometimes difficult period of change” (Michael D. Rettig, The Effects of Block Scheduling). Admittedly, transitioning to a block schedule can be stressful to teachers until they are confident in how to plan properly for longer blocks of time and expand their instructional strategies to include tools that make them more of a classroom facilitator instead of an instructor that dominates the air in the classroom. While not perfect, Oxford High School teachers have had an opportunity to learn new skills needed to teach on the block schedule due to the current modified block schedule in place at OHS now. According to a survey of OHS teachers conducted by Mr. Hamilton during the 2019-20 school year, more teachers preferred transitioning to a block schedule rather than remaining with the current modified block. Over time, it’s easy to see why both students and teachers report that block scheduling is less stressful. Teachers are teaching at least 75 less students per day and students are taking 2-4 less courses at one time which results in much less homework as well as many fewer summative assessments.
In nearly all of more than 100 case studies, dissertations, and reports completed on block scheduling, the number of discipline referral decreased between 25 and 50 percent. In some studies, students perceived that school discipline improved by nearly 40% and the perception of parents regarding school discipline was even higher. There is also evidence that shows a decline in in-school suspension as well as an increase in both student and teacher attendance. Of course, due to the reduced number of class changes, tardies decrease as well.
In an analysis of school systems utilizing a block schedule over a four year period, 70% to 80% of students, parents, and teachers felt block scheduling was effective and a model worth continuing. In the same study, 84% of teachers felt that conducting school using a block schedule improved school safety. Due to our current crisis related to the Covid-19 pandemic, schools safety is at the forefront of every decision we make in our schools. The block schedule provides minimum class changes which in turn lessens the opportunities for student interaction.
According to Dennis Pope (Stanford Graduate School of Education) there has been another theme over the last few years that is concerning regarding today’s youth. Due to an immense workload and expectations, students are more stressed than ever. “If you followed kids over the course of a school day, you’d see that they’re exhausted. The entire education system has created a pressure cooker for students and staff. More parents and educators are now seeing what that stress does to the body, what it does to the psyche and what it does to student engagement,” Pope says.
I believe we can all agree that the social emotional state of our youth may be as fragile as ever when returning to school which means student stress levels will be at an all time high. It is important that we remove as many stressors as we can for our kids and provide them opportunities to spend more time with their teachers and peers whether in person or virtually during such a difficult time. Pope says a block schedule creates a “saner school day” by slowing down the pace, reducing homework and freeing up more time for hands-on learning and collaboration – “the things that we know will make the learning stick better and take some of the pressure off students.”
Effects on Student Learning
Block scheduling was not designed to affect student achievement directly. However, there have been many studies conducted across the country to study the impact of block scheduling on student achievement. No statistically significant differences have been found. While block scheduling did not drastically improve test scores, the loss of total course time had no significant negative effect on academic achievement according to state assessment scores, PSAT scores, and SAT scores.
While national assessment scores were not impacted, evidence shows that students’ grades improved and the number of students on the honor roll increased (Michael D. Rettig, The Effects of Block Scheduling). The same studies also show a decline in failure rates in schools that institute a 4x4 block schedule as well as a greater likelihood that “at risk” students remain in school due to those students having multiple opportunities afforded by the 4x4 schedule to pass courses and remain on graduation track with their respective classmates. As a result, schools on a block schedule have also seen an increase in graduation rates.
As it relates to student learning, the central argument for the block schedule is the far greater immersion into the content due to the amount of time a student spends in a class daily is doubled from traditional scheduling methods. While some detractors argue that limiting content to one semester does not allow the needed time for students to master the content, I would argue that 45 minutes of daily learning doesn’t allow teachers enough uninterrupted time to truly take a deep dive into content away. Therefore, the length of the course is irrelevant. Block scheduling provides teachers the opportunity to teach the depth of content instead of “covering topics.” Teachers engage students in more interactive, engaging lessons. Teachers have more instructional time for extended laboratory investigations or classroom experiments. In one study, 84% of teachers stated that teaching on the block schedule enabled them to vary their instructional methods much more effectively compared to teaching on a traditional 7-period day. Lessons can now be extended and maintained with much greater continuity. Canady and Rettig found that English teachers could guide students through the total writing process in one period and could provide time for peer-editing workshops. More guided practice and extra time were available for skill enhancement in music, art, and vocational classes. Mary Gunter, Thomas Estes, and Jan Schwab reported that teachers found that the added time allowed them to design differentiated lessons to maintain greater student interest. In addition, teachers realized that varied instructional strategies such as cooperative learning, inquiry method, group discussion, concept development, simulations, and seminars could actively engage students in the learning process.
Challenges of a Block Schedule
As with any bell schedule, there are challenges with a block schedule. One such challenge is advanced placement courses. Problems emerge when AP courses are offered during the fall semester and the examination for awarding college credit is not administered until the end of spring semester. To combat the issue, Oxford High School, along with many other school districts across the country, offer all advanced placement courses in the Spring semester. While the sample size is small, Oxford High School had 13 students that took AP BC Calculus in the spring block of the 2018-19 school year and had an mean score of 4.69 while the global average was 3.74. 100% of those BC Calculus students scored a 3 or higher on the AP exam.
Foreign language teachers have also expressed concern over possible gaps in instruction due to students skipping a semester in between foreign language courses. As a result, researchers suggest that administrators schedule students in two sequential foreign language courses within the same academic year.
Perhaps the largest criticism of block scheduling has been related to the perception of the loss of instruction time. However, since blocked classes meet one-half as many times as traditional classes, the total amount of time lost for administrative duties such as taking attendance is also reduced by half. As a result, teachers have found that the total time lost is minimal and total learning time is not greatly reduced. In fact, students in a two-semester course meet for 180 days for 50 minutes each, for a total of 9,000 minutes of instructional time. Students in a 4X4 block course for a semester meet for 90 days for 95-100 minutes, for a total of 8,550-9000 minutes of instructional time. If 10 minutes of each class is devoted to administrative functions at the beginning and end of the period, then 1,800 minutes are lost under the traditional schedule (180 days x 10 minutes), and 900 minutes are lost under the 4X4 block (90 days x 10 minutes). Using these numbers, a teacher has 7,200 minutes of instruction under the traditional model and 7,650-8,100 minutes of instruction under the 4X4 Block model.
Schedule Types of Mississippi High Schools Rated Above Oxford High School
These are the schedule types of Mississippi high schools rated above Oxford High School according to the 2018-19 Mississippi Accountability Model:
District School Schedule Type Grade Score Ocean Springs School District Ocean Springs High School Block A 811 Desoto County School District Hernando High School Block A 809 Harrison County School District West Harrison High School Block A 807 Enterprise School District Enterprise High School K-12 School A 804 Desoto County School District Center Hill High School Block A 796 Lamar County School District Oak Grove High School Block A 790 Pass Christian Public School District Pass Christian High School Block A 789 Biloxi Public School District Biloxi High School Traditional A 784 Jackson County School District Vancleave High School Block A 783 Bay St. Louis Waveland School District Bay High School Unknown A 782 Madison County School District Rosa Scott School Block (Modified) A 778 Madison County School District Madison Central High School Block (Modified) A 778 New Albany Public Schools New Albany High School Block (Modified) A 777 Desoto County School District Lewisburg High School Block A 776 Alcorn School District Kossuth High School Block A 774 Booneville School District Booneville High School Block A 774 Petal School District Petal High School Block (Modified) A 764 Poplarville Separate School District Poplarville Jr. Sr. High School K-12 School A 762 Pearl River County School District Pearl River Central High School 9-Period Day A 760 Rankin County School District Brandon High School Block A 759 Desoto County School District Desoto Central High School Block B 751 Lafayette County School District Lafayette High School Traditional B 751 Long Beach School District Long Beach Senior High School Block B 750 Clinton Public School District Clinton High School Traditional (Modified) B 750 Jackson County School District East Central High School Block B 746 Lamar County School District Sumrall High School Block B 746 Union Public School District Union High School Unknown B 745 Senatobia Municipal School District Senatobia High School Block B 744 Hancock County School District Hancock High School Block B 742 South Panola School District South Panola High School Traditional B 739 Lee County School District Mooreville High School Block (Modified) B 737 Harrison County School District Diberville Senior High School Block B 736 Greene County School District Greene County High School Unknown B 736 Rankin County School District Northwest Rankin High School A/B Block B 733 Picayune School District Picayune Memorial High School Block B 730 Lowndes County School District New Hope High School Block B 729 South Tippah School District Ripley High School Block B 725 Pascagoula Gautier School District Gautier High School Unknown B 720 Oxford School District Oxford High School B 720
The acceleration component of the Mississippi Accountability System is measured by the participation and performance of students in dual credit, career technical education, and advanced placement courses. Of the top ten schools in acceleration:
- 4 are on a block schedule
- 2 are on a modified block schedule
- 2 are on a traditional schedule
- 2 are unknown
Based on community response and the work of the Portrait of a Graduate Committee, district administrators have been given the challenge to turn the Portrait of a Graduate into a reality for every Oxford School District student. In terms of student learning, that means designing a curriculum and lessons that create educational experiences that lead to deeper learning for all students. As determined by the Portrait of a Graduate Committee, content standards are no longer the ultimate goal for Oxford School District students. Content standards are a vehicle teachers utilize to ultimately teach students how to be ethical, critical thinkers, resilient, personally responsible, culturally aware, effective communicators, and active citizens. The Oxford School District Curriculum and Instruction team is developing proficiency scales that leverage content standards to teach PoG skills. In order for this shift in educational practice to take place, teachers need time to teach standards to depth not merely cover content. The block schedule will afford them that very opportunity.
As each day passes it is almost inevitable that part if not all of an Oxford High School student’s education will be in a virtual format during the 2020-21 school year; however, the online learning system will be much more robust than it was in the spring of 2020. There will be well established expectations for parents, students, and teachers. Video conferencing will be utilized to teach real time instruction instead of just serving as a tool to assess the wellbeing of students. Assignments will have deadlines. Grades will be given based on accuracy not simply completion and effort. Students will be expected to check in daily will teachers for accountability and attendance. Balancing such expectations will be difficult for students with just 4 classes, but almost unmanageable with 6, 7, or 8 classes. The same could be said for teachers. Teaching 75 students under such conditions will be difficult due to the required amount of planning needed to develop and teach online. Teaching 150 students at one time in some cases with 3 and 4 preps would again almost be an unobtainable expectation. Transitioning to a 4x4 block schedule eases the stressors our students, teachers, and parents will have to face if online learning is a necessity for the 2020-21 school year.