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Education: No rush to change high school schedules

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

A proposal to change the class schedules at Georgetown County’s four public high schools is unlikely to come up for a vote at next week’s school board meeting, according to Superintendent Randy Dozier. He agreed with board members who attended a parent forum at Waccamaw High last week that there is no urgency to making a change from a block schedule to a traditional schedule.

“I definitely don’t see the urgency,” Board Member Johnny Wilson said after listening to comments from Waccamaw parents.

It isn’t the schedule that’s the concern, Board Member Teresa Benanni said, it’s how to make the transition.

The district adopted block schedules in 1996. High school students attend four 90-minute classes and take different courses in each semester. Last month, principals asked the board to change to a seven-period schedule where courses will run for the entire year.

Driving the change is concern over the results of state-mandated exams given at the end of four courses, which account for 20 percent of a student’s final grade. More than half of county students failed the U.S. history exam last year. The failure rate for physical science was just below half. At Waccamaw High, which leads the county in its results on standardized tests, more than a third of the students failed the end-of-course exam in history. More than a quarter failed physical science and a quarter failed English I.

Principals say the traditional schedule would make better use of instructional time and provide continuity between courses. One reason for the high failure rate in history is that there isn’t enough time to cover all the material, according to Waccamaw High principal David Hammel.

Although the High School Assessment Program, also known as the exit exam, that counts the most toward a school’s rating on the state-issued report cards, Dozier said there is concern that more weight will be given to end-of-course results as a measure of accountability.

“We’re testing kids on material they haven’t covered,” he said.

Another concern is that students who are otherwise doing well in a course will see their final grades dragged down by the end-of-course exam, Hammel said.

Parents at the Waccamaw forum said the change to a seven-period schedule would penalize the top students, a theme district officials said was common at the other three high schools.

“I’m concerned about the penalty we’re placing on these students,” said Liz Moran.

Students who take Advanced Placement and other college-level courses will be overloaded, she said.

“Changing penalizes the kids who are smart,” said Marie Lindsay. Her son is in ninth grade, and takes eight year-long courses in the “freshman academy” that the school adopted this year.

The schedule requires more homework and the 45-minute gym class barely gives students time to dress out, Lindsay said.

Tami Moore said the focus on end-of-course exams was misplaced, because universities are interested in SAT and ACT results. The current schedule is more like college, and requires less time to move between classes.

“We’re not talking enough about the positives,” she said.

“Why are we changing something where we are already excelling?” asked Leesa Meador.

“We have an excellent report card,” Hammel said. “Our test scores have never been higher.”

“On a block schedule,” said Martha Hamel, whose son is a junior.

The schedule change would be “an impediment” for college-bound students, she said. “What would be the harm in waiting a year?”

A district-wide committee of parents, teachers and staff met this week to consider the change, and Dozier said he has asked each high school principal for a recommendation on the schedule change and how it would improve instruction.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if you had four different recommendations,” he said.

It’s possible that schedules could vary between schools, or that schools could have an “AP academy” on a block schedule within a school with a traditional schedule.

He told Waccamaw High parents last week that rising seniors would see little change in their schedule. “I don’t want to disrupt a high school senior’s schedule,” Dozier said.

That was good news for Sterling Rippy, a junior. She said she needs eight credits to graduate. Changing to the traditional schedule would only give her seven.

Hammel said whatever happens he would make sure she gets all her credits.

He said the issue isn’t about the schedule, but about how teachers engage students.

While there is no urgency to changing the schedule, Dozier wants to continue the discussion. The recommendations from principals will need to include data to support claims continuing improvement, he said.

“It’s been a very enlightening discussion. It’s been more than just schedules. It’s been about instruction and how we teach,” Dozier said. “That’s been beneficial.”

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