NEW ULM - The new six-period day schedule started this year has brought mostly positives to the high school but some aspects can be improved, New Ulm High School Principal Mark Bergmann told the Board of Education last week, as part of a report that covered the justification for, and outcomes of, the new schedule.
Background and justification
While the concept was originally conceived to meet budgetary needs, the measure came to be seen as an opportunity to stabilize the decline in, and continue to provide a wide scope of, electives; give students additional time with instructors; and add resource time to assist in improving student performance, said Bergmann.
Nearly $8 million in reductions over the past nine years have resulted in a significant drop in the number of sections in elective areas in grades 7-12, recapped Bergmann.
The number of sections in industrial technology have been cut from 72 to 18, or 75 percent. Family and consumer science went from 35 to 18 sections, a cut of 49 percent; world languages went from 38 to 12 sections (down 68 percent); business and consumer science from 29 to eight (down 72 percent); art from 29 to 17 (down 41 percent); agriculture from 22 to 18 (down 18 percent); music from 30 to 25 (down 17 percent); and physical education and health from 56 to 32 (down 43 percent).
Overall, the number of sections in electives declined 48 percent. Student population, in comparison, declined an overall 44 percent. (All percent numbers have been rounded.)
After the School Board last year instructed administrators to cut another $250,000 to $300,000 of the budget in 2012-13, the administration was faced with the choice of cutting five to seven teachers, or an additional 50-70 sections of classes, reported Bergmann.
Class sizes in core areas are already high, with 60 sections of more than 30 students each, and some as many as 36-37, noted Bergmann.
In addition, the call for more budget cuts came alongside increased state expectations, a desire to maintain elective options in all areas, and no reduction in student population. If the budget goal set by the board were to be met by cutting sections, over the period in question (10 years), the number of sections would have declined by a total 69 percent.
On a different note, a review of state testing data indicated that test scores have remained essentially flat since 2006, added Bergmann. The change was seen as an opportunity to improve them.
The schedule was re-organized to include six 56-minute periods (up from formerly 48 minutes), plus a mid-day period split between lunch and structured resource time.
The longer class time provides for increased contact time with teachers, said Bergmann. Instructional time has been increased from 4,080 minutes to 4,760 minutes per semester, he noted. The additional 680 instructional minutes equate to more than 14 additional instructional periods per class, compared to the 48-minute schedule, or nearly three weeks of additional instruction per class.
"Time with teachers has been documented as the best opportunity for increased learning," said Bergmann.
Nearly all subject areas have found that the additional time has provided opportunities, in the form of additional lab, guided-study and teaching time, he noted.
The schedule also incorporates 26 minutes of resource time.
The resource time during the first semester was utilized for focusing on specific aspects of writing, reading and math, and for independent study and exploration.
During the second semester, resource time is being based on specific student academic needs (in math, English, science, social studies, or independent study), as well as test preparation for grade 11 and credit recovery for about 24 juniors and seniors.
Resource time has brought advantages to students, said Bergmann. As part of the seven-period day, 70 percent of students took a study hall. The resource time, instead, provides for guided study by specific curriculum areas, credit recovery through the use of a guided online program, as well those general study hall needs. It allows for remediation to be specialized (by reading, math, study skills, social skills) and for special group meeting time, rather than taking students out of the classroom.
Resource time has some weaknesses, acknowledged Bergmann. Students who do not need extra help can take additional classes online, but the option has a cost associated with it, and that cost is incurred by families.
"While attempts are made to offer accelerated experiences in grades 7-10, we do not believe we have met these student needs," said Bergmann.
Is the six-period day
working in terms of test performance?
Without completing a full-year, there is no test data to compare, to determine if the schedule is working in terms of test performance, said Bergmann.
But when looking at the deficiency list (a list of students who failed one or more courses at the end of a semester), administrators see an increase in student success, said Bergmann.
More specifically, 2-3 percent fewer students in grades 7-12 received failing grades at the end of the semester, compared to the past two years. In grades 7-8, this number was 3-7 percent smaller.
Implementation of the plan could be improved, said Bergmann. There are several potential ideas:
-- Develop plans to better meet upper-level student needs;
-- Offer course curriculum during resource time for students who meet or exceed state standards in math and reading;
-- Offer online courses to students who meet or exceed standards at no cost to families;
-- Offer zero-hour courses to allow the 30 percent of students who took seven periods to do so;
-- Offer additional evening college courses for students who meet requirements.
These improvements would require additional funding, cautioned Bergmann.
Recently aired objections to the schedule have focused on its taking the opportunity from students to take an extra class over the seventh period, as they were formerly able to.
Alternating band and choir in grades seven and eight on a semester basis, an effect of the schedule, will hurt these programs, some have said. Some students have to choose between band and choir, or a foreign language, others point out.