Where is data to support 7-period school day?

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Citizen-Letters-2

It has come to my attention there is a move afoot to ensure that all five high schools in Fayette County have a mandatory seven-period class schedule. Let’s look at the history regarding the seven-period school day.

For over a decade, McIntosh High School has had a six-period class schedule with an optional seventh period called the “zero” period. Then about five years ago, the principal at Sandy Creek High asked to pilot a mandatory seven-period schedule. All the students at Sandy Creek would take seven classes, the academic teachers would teach five classes and have two planning/professional learning/meeting periods, and the non-academic teachers would teach six classes. No additional time was added to the school day.

There was to be an evaluation of the program to determine if the seven-period day was effective and was appropriate for the other high schools. The evaluation never happened.

However, in 2014, the Board of Education was asked to consider implementing a mandatory seven-period day at the other high schools. With many reservations, the board gave approval with the caveat that the faculty and staff at each high school (not the principal) would determine which organizational structure was in the best interest of their school.

The board did not want “cookie cutter” schools. The board wanted what was in the best interest of each school.

Three other schools, in addition to Sandy Creek, chose to reprogram their schedules for a seven-period day; therefore, the classes at these schools are 50 minutes long.

The McIntosh faculty (with input from stakeholders) opted to remain on the traditional six-period schedule with the OPTIONAL seventh period (zero period). Since all five high schools begin and end the school day at the same time, the classes at McIntosh last 60 minutes.

Here are some questions and considerations of each schedule.

• Since the classes at MHS are 60 minutes long, those students receive an extra 50 minutes of instruction in each class each week and over a year’s time, an extra five weeks of instruction. There is time in class to support struggling students and accelerate successful ones. There is also time in class to start on homework under the supervision of a teacher.

• Is there a need to increase homework assignments to compensate for the lesser amount of instructional time in the mandatory seven-period day?

• Does taking seven classes increase the stress on students?

• If a student is struggling to pass six classes, how can that student pass seven?

• Since the classes in the mandatory seven-period day last only 50 minutes, do the students in lab classes have enough time to complete their labs? Is there adequate time in the AP classes?

• Are students enrolled in courses of interest or are they placed in empty seats in elective courses? Are the decreasing scores on End-of-Pathway tests a result of student enrollment in coursework that is not in an area of interest? Have students’ grades suffered because they are taking an extra course?

• Are students reluctant to take AP courses because of the seven-period schedule? Has the seven-period schedule affected the AP test results?

• Students with excellent grades are allowed to opt out of the seventh class. Would it not make more sense to allow weak students to opt out?

• Why do students need 26-28 credits? Do ALL students need that many credits? What is the purpose of the mandatory seven periods? The students at McIntosh who want/need more credits can get the extra courses without requiring everyone to participate.

Several other questions need to be answered. Is the mandatory seven-period day the best option for ALL students? Is there an emphasis on quantity versus quality? Has a survey been done to determine if the mandatory seven-period day is meeting the needs of a majority of students? Has a survey been done recently at McIntosh to determine if the optional seven-period day is meeting the needs of students there? Has an evaluation of either of these programs been done?

It seems silly to me to continue programs if they are not meeting the needs of students. Are not students the prime focus? Where is the DATA to support the continuation of the mandatory seven-period schedule or to support discontinuing the flexible seven-period schedule?

We await the answers to the questions and the results of the surveys and evaluations.

Marion Key
Fayetteville, Ga.

[Mrs. Key is a retired teacher and former multi-term member of the Fayette County Board of Education, most recently as chair.]