Block Schedule Impacts Instruction for APs

by Mallory Carlson ’19

In March, a buzz started going around about a new schedule following spring break and continuing through May. The “block schedule,” as it is now commonly referred to, details the adjusted bell schedule to comply with standardized testing that has been taking place in the building for the past month.

Though the testing had an impact on all classes, there was an especially disruptive effect on AP courses due to the rearrangement of the class periods each day, which occurred preceding, during, and following the window for AP testing. In addition, there were some concerns about the quality of instruction that took place during the prolonged block periods due to a potential lack of teacher preparation for the extended window of time.

Many students and staff questioned the purpose of pending the order and length of classes. This shift was primarily due to the fact that the Class of 2018 only had to pass the government High School Assessment (HSA) and take (but not necessarily pass) the English 10 Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) exam, the Algebra I PARCC exam, and Maryland Integrated Science Assessment (MISA). The Class of 2019 and those classes following it have to pass not only the government HSA, but also the English 10 and Algebra I PARCC exams, while they only have to take the MISA.

“Our numbers for testing students went from about 800 students last year for the spring testing block to 1,800,” explained Assistant Secondary Administrator Stephanie Gelfand, who is the school’s testing coordinator.

In addition, the administration surveyed the staff and found that the most viable solution for getting 1,800 students through testing was the block schedule.

Despite the diligent planning done by the administration, there were still reservations about the way testing impacted Sherwood’s students. Christine McKeldin, who is the resource teacher for the social studies department and also teaches AP Psychology in addition to U.S. History, explained that she knows “the schedule was created in the best interest of the students … [but] I am very concerned regarding AP classes. Unfortunately, there is no balance in the schedule prior to the exam and some classes [received] more review and instruction.” Even though the literal hours of instruction were relatively even by the end of the testing, many AP classes lacked an equal amount of in-class preparation time.

On a similar note, another teacher, who asked to remain anonymous, lamented the skewed frequency of classes more than the uneven hours of instruction. The teacher explained that the concern lies within “the number of days teachers are not touching base with their students.”

Another area of concern that has been highlighted is the uncertainty of whether or not quality instruction is taking place during the two-hour block periods. “I feel like the teachers don’t really know how to fill the time block because they haven’t taught for that long before,” said junior Anna Squiers.

Some teachers wished they had more time to adjust to the news of the schedule before it began—they only received the confirmed version of the schedule in late March. The teacher who asked to remain anonymous teaches more than one level of the course and acknowledged that the nature of the teaching profession necessitates a certain amount of flexibility, which came into play during this spring testing season. “Most teachers know they have to build in flexibility,” the teacher said. However, knowing the specifics of the testing schedule earlier would have given teachers more time to adjust lesson plans. “Good instruction occurs when teachers plan in advance.”

The third main concern regarding the block schedule came from juniors and seniors. Unless a student in these grades missed or failed an exam from one of the years prior, they did not take any standardized tests. For seniors in particular, the daily schedule for their final month of high school was dramatically altered for tests that they were not taking.

“I do see some benefit in a standardized tests on a certain level,” McKeldin said. “However in no way shape or form should standardized testing disrupt the function of a school for over a month. It is a waste of time and resources.”