Last fall I met with parents who wished to discuss their concerns with the middle and high school curriculums. Their main issue at the middle school was the desire for two complete years of science instead of just a year and a half. The main issue at the high school was the effect the trimester schedule has upon music education and math.
After a great discussion with the group, I committed the district to study these issues. Since the meeting last fall, the district office, high school administrators, and middle school administrators have met many times to review these issues. I would like to report on our findings and conclusions.
First, I would like to report that after a review of the State Middle School Curriculum Requirements, and a review of the middle school schedule and personnel assignments, we determined that we will be able to make some scheduling and personnel changes that will allow us to offer a full year science program for 7th and 8th grade students.
In response to parent concerns regarding the trimester system as it relates to math courses, the music program, and additional opportunities for students at the high school, I met with the high school administrative team to create a plan to research different scheduling systems such as trimester, semester, block and different period offerings per these schedules. Research was then conducted by high school staff and discussed with the school’s leadership team. Later, the information was shared with the school community council. Two of the concerned parents who were also members from the council volunteered to look at the research and give input.
A traditional semester-based schedule was created to compare what is currently offered and what would be gained or lost converting to a new schedule. The schedule was created based on the current staffing at the high school.
Reviewing the results, it was determined that changing to a semester based schedule using the current staffing, would cause the loss of two math courses, including AP Calculus C, two science courses, Native American Studies, one section of General Automotive, and AP Art. The schedule would not provide opportunity to introduce marching band or jazz band into regular school days.
Research on both the trimester and semester system were analyzed. Advantages and disadvantages of both systems were compared side-by-side.
Despite the largely anecdotal advantages and disadvantages cited, there is little empirical evidence regarding student learning and achievement based on whether a school implements a traditional schedule or a trimester schedule. What the available research does indicate is that struggling learners have a more difficult time in classes that are scheduled for longer periods of time, while advanced learners take advantage of the longer time to make stronger connections.
The research also indicates that students will learn, and learn how to learn, in any scheduling structure they find themselves – the structure is not as important as the instruction.
Finally, an analysis of how many hours of instruction were required to receive one credit under both systems was conducted. The traditional semester schedule requires 142 hours of instruction per credit, and allows a student to earn 7 credits per year. A trimester schedule requires 140 hour of instruction per credit, and allows a student to earn 7.5 credits per year.
The final recommendation from the joint review team is to maintain the current trimester schedule, keeping courses that would allow for year-round math for students who require math remediation and adding a full year of math for Honors Math II and III. We have determined the music program will remain as is. It has been concluded that bringing additional music courses into the regular school day would actually limit a student’s ability to participate.
In addition, a renewed focus on quality instruction during the 70-minute period trimester block will be critical in the coming years.
This information and recommendation was reviewed with the school board at its regular April board meeting. I appreciate the parents’ interest and concerns, the hard work of our administrative teams, Leadership Council and the Community Council’s advice and expertise in the review and recommendations as per these issues. My desire is for continual renewal and reflection to make Grand County School District the best it can be.
Scott Crane is the superintendent of the Grand County School District.