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Creative Research Proposal Melanie Sargent Jennifer Yates
Research Problem/Topic A controversy facing many school systems in West Tennessee revolves around the impact of block scheduling versus traditional scheduling on student achievement on the American College Test (ACT). There are varying opinions as to whether this impact has been positive or negative. The goal of this study is to bring a valid conclusion to this controversy.
Rationale for Study Many schools in West Tennessee are debating the effectiveness of block scheduling Teachers throughout the state of Tennessee have varied opinions about block scheduling As educators, we are concerned about the long term effects of block scheduling for students. Schools throughout West Tennessee are beginning to modify the original 4X4 block schedule.
Reasons for moving to block scheduling According to Lewis, (1999) schools shifted to block scheduling due to a desire to raise national test scores and decrease student drop out rates. In 1995 Canady and Rettig found the “perfect school schedule” in the block format. Irmsher (1996) built on the research of Canady and Rettig and cited that many of the problems inherent to the traditional schedule, hurried instruction, increased discipline problems because of scheduled transitions, and limited learning opportunities were minimized in block scheduling.
Advantages of Block Scheduling In 1995, Canady and Rettig stated that Assistant Principals nationwide noted that most discipline problems occurred during scheduled transitions. With block scheduling there were fewer scheduled transitions which decreased the likelihood of disruption. Shorrt found in 1999 by looking at schools in the state of Virginia that with there was a correlation between decreased discipline problems and increased student achievement.
Advantages of Block Scheduling Canady and Reina (1993) found that parallel block scheduling created smaller class sizes, which allowed for greater interaction among teachers and students. This was especially beneficial to lab type classes. Teachers also had extended instructional time. According to Doughtery (1998), the increase in class time allowed teachers to include and extend more explorative projects.
Advantages of Block Scheduling In 1999 Deuel studied twenty-three urban high schools and found that students working under a block schedule had fewer D’s and F’s and more A’s than when the same students were on a traditional schedule. Teachers and guidance counselors surveyed believed this was because students could better manage the course load of a block schedule than that of a traditional schedule.
Advantages of Block Scheduling According to a survey conducted by Liu and Dye in 1998 teachers and students alike approved of the extended time. 83% of teachers surveyed felt the increased planning time allowed them to incorporate more opportunities for interdisciplinary learning. 54% of students surveyed felt they received more individualized help and 53% claimed to be more actively involved in the learning process.
Advantages of Block Scheduling In 2000, Lawrence and McPherson found a correlation between block scheduling and higher final classroom grades. In a 2002 study of a small school in the western United States, Lare, Jablonski, and Salvaterra found similar results. ACT scores did not change, but the number of students that were included in the school honor roll dramatically increased.
Disadvantages of Block Scheduling Though there are numerous benefits to block scheduling, some disadvantages do exist. Teaching techniques, student retention of material covered, difficulty in making up work missed due to absences, and problems dealing with students transferring from schools on traditional schedules were all cited as disadvantages of block scheduling. There is also some debate about the data concerning the effect of block scheduling on student achievement.
Disadvantages of Block Scheduling One of the primary issues that must be examined is the teaching techniques used by teachers on a block schedule. Traverso (1991) stated that adequate staff development when converting to a block schedule is key to the success of the program. Watson (1998) points out that teachers must change teaching practices if they expect students to find success. Irmsher (1996) suggests that any system contemplating the move from a traditional to a block schedule should first visit other schools on a block schedule prior to implementation.
Disadvantages of Block Scheduling Doughtery (1998) found students on block schedules had difficulty retaining the material covered during a 90-minute class period. This problem with retention could offer some explanation as to why some students have had decreased scores on national standardized tests such as the ACT.
Disadvantages of Block Scheduling In a 2000 study conducted by Wilson and Stokes, researchers found that students on block schedules had difficulty making up work when returning from absences. Even though students only had four classes to catch up in, the amount of material covered during their absence made the experience more stressful and time consuming.
Disadvantages of Block Scheduling In 1991, Traverso found that students transferring to and from schools operating on block schedules and traditional schedules had difficulty adjusting to the new schedule. Students going from a traditional to a block schedule are often placed in classes that are much further along than the classes they left. This forces the student to accelerate his or her learning to keep up with the new class. Likewise, students moving from a block schedule to a traditional often have to wait for the rest of the class to catch up to them before covering new material.
Disadvantages of Block Scheduling Wronkovich (1998) tackled the conflicting findings of a number of studies that look at the impact of block scheduling on student achievement. Though teachers and students felt better about the block format, and attendance has improved, empirical data shows that students who had been educated on the block format scored lower on Advanced Placement tests than those students who had been educated on a more traditional schedule.
Analysis of Research Whether or not block scheduling is just another trend in education or a valuable instrument for improving public education in America is yet to be seen. Though there is much research available on the positive attitudes of students, teachers, and administrators who use a block schedule, there is conflicting evidence as to the block’s positive impact on student achievement on a national level. This study will examine in particular the effect of block scheduling on students’ national ACT scores as opposed to the effect of traditional scheduling on these scores.
Research Subjects The research subjects for this study will include high school students enrolled in two rural schools in West Tennessee (Schools A and B). The socioeconomic backgrounds of students in both schools will be primarily low to middle income levels. The gender distribution in both schools will be approximately 50% male and 50% female.
Research Subjects Research subjects will be students in grades 9-12, and the focus will be on core classes. Research subjects will include members of the following classes from Schools A and B: , , , , , and The race distribution will be approximately 90% Caucasian and 10% African-American in School A and 55% African-American and 45% Caucasian in School B.
Procedures During the first semester of the school year, researchers will collect data that will allow for comparisons of student preparedness for college from the ACT. The focus will be on traditional seven period scheduling versus the 4X4 block schedule model. The ACT scores from the years: , , , , , and will be used to determine levels of student achievement. Surveys from faculty members, students, and principals of Schools A and B will provide qualitative information for the researchers to analyze and determine perceptions from these groups concerning test data.
Traditional Scheduling In the traditional scheduling method, research subjects attend six or seven classes each day that last for minutes. Research subjects remain in the same classes throughout the school year. Seven credits are available in a school year to research subjects attending schools with the traditional school schedule.
Block Scheduling With the 4X4 block scheduling, research subjects attend four classes per day that each last for a period of 90 minutes. At the school year’s midpoint, research subjects begin to attend four new classes for the remainder of the school year. A possible eight credits are available to research subjects following the 4X4 block schedule.
School Schedules School A will be operating under a traditional 4X4 block schedule. School B will be operating under a modified block schedule that will include two 90-minute blocks and four 45-minute blocks each semester. Research subjects in School B will begin two new 90-minutes courses at the midpoint of the year and remain in the 45-minute classes throughout the year. School B will offer the opportunity to earn eight credits in a school year.
ACT Scores All research subjects in both School A and B are required to take either the ACT or the Work Keys Test prior to graduation. Researchers, with permission from the school administrators, will collect the ACT scores from six school years. Work Keys scores will not be studied as there is no uniform method of scoring the Work Keys as there is with the ACT, and 85% of students are taking the ACT. This method of research will be done in collaboration with the guidance counselors from both Schools A and B.
ACT Scores The classes will be chosen by determining the year that Schools A and B changed from traditional to block scheduling. The three years prior to block scheduling ( ) will be used to determine student achievement using the traditional scheduling method. The data collected from the three years prior to this study ( ) will be used to determine student achievement under the block-scheduling format.
Surveys Surveys will be given to students, faculty, and principals to provide a qualitative means for evaluating the data obtained from the ACT. All surveys will be confidential and anonymous. All research subjects in the researchers’ classes will be surveyed concerning their thoughts on the level of learning that they are experiencing under block scheduling. School A will have approximately seventy-five research subjects, while School B will have approximately ninety.
Surveys Faculty members of Schools A and B with at least ten years experience will be surveyed about changes in student learning and teaching strategies since the implementation of block scheduling. The principal from each school will be surveyed as to his/her thoughts and opinions about learning under block scheduling versus the traditional schedule, as well as student behavior and the teaching styles of the faculty members
Instruments Used A number of different instruments will be used during the course of the study in an attempt to answer the aforementioned research questions. Normal Curve Equivalency scores for the ACT for the school years , , , , , and will be obtained from the guidance counselor of each school. Principals in both Schools A and B will take an Administrator Survey in regard to changes in student achievement and behavior and changes in faculty instructional strategies since moving to the block schedule.
Instruments Used Faculty members in both Schools A and B that have at least 10 years teaching experience will be asked to take a Faculty Survey as to their opinions about the changes in students achievement and instructional strategies since changing to the block schedule format. Students taking courses from the researchers will participate in a Student Survey. There will be two separate student surveys since School B will be operating under a modified block schedule. Students will be asked to determine whether they are learning more or less under the block schedule format and how teaching strategies are different than when on a traditional schedule.
Instruments Used Researcher journaling will be used to record or log comments made by students throughout the study regarding feelings toward block scheduling. Student writing in preparation for the TCAP Writing Assessment will also be used to gauge student opinions on block scheduling.
Treatment of Data Data from the various instruments will be analyzed to determine the results of the study. Independent T-tests will be used to determine whether there is a statistical difference in the mean scores between the three years prior to block scheduling and the three most current years utilizing block scheduling.
Treatment of Data Faculty and Administrator Surveys will be administered at the beginning of the school year. Student Surveys will be administered after the first nine- week grading period has been completed. Data from the surveys will be analyzed for patterns or trends of similar thinking. Researcher journaling and student writing from the TCAP Writing Assessment Prompts will provide a qualitative means for evaluating quantitative data provided by the ACT.
Delimitations of the Study Research subjects at School A who took the ACT during the , , school years had the opportunity to take ACT Prep, an elective course taken in preparation for the ACT, prior to the ACT. Students in School B, during the school year, had the opportunity to take remediation and/or enrichment courses. A small percentage of students chose one of these options, and researchers opted to allow those scores to remain part of the raw data due to the fact that students in the , , and school years could have taken an independent course to prepare for the ACT.
Delimitations of the Study In 2001, the state of Tennessee made it mandatory that all students graduating from high school pass an exit exam. The ACT is one of the two possible exit exams that seniors may take. This could cause ACT scores to drop since a higher percentage of students who may or may not be college bound will be taking the test. However, since the last year studied is the first year of implementation we opted to include the data in our study.
Use of Results The results of the study will be used to assist administrators in both Schools A and B to plan future school schedules. Researchers will provide a written overview to both the Director of Schools and the Principals of Schools A and B. Researchers will use planning time to make verbal follow-ups with the Director of Schools and Principal from his or her respective school. Researchers will present findings at a faculty meeting at the request of the Principal.
Results - - Student Surveys After surveys from both schools were compared, the following attitudes about block scheduling were evident. Seventy-four percent of students at School A favored block scheduling over the traditional seven period day. All of those students expressed a belief that their teachers used different teaching styles under the block, which helped make learning more “complete” to them. One student pointed out that he felt better able to get a picture of the world as a whole, rather than as a piece, when studying subjects on a block schedule.
Results - - Student Surveys Twenty-one percent of those students surveyed at School A did not favor the block schedule over a traditional seven period day. Reasons for this varied. Some students opposed the block because they felt left behind by the new teaching techniques used in the block classes. Others felt overwhelmed by the volume of material covered in class each day. Several students also pointed out that some teachers merely drug out the original material to fill up the extended class time. Five percent of School A students showed no preference in the two schedules. These students felt there was little or no difference in the instruction they received in either the block or a traditional schedule.
Results - - Student Surveys School B showed a Seventy-nine percent student approval of block scheduling. Many students surveyed expressed a positive view of the increased class time, claiming it helped them complete labs and allowed their teachers to provide more depth and clarity to their lessons in the students’ academic courses. School B students also stated that their teachers in the block classes (first and third) used different teaching strategies than teachers in their split- block classes.
Results - - Student Surveys Surveys at School B also showed that twenty-one percent of the student population did not favor the block. These students preferred their split –block, or forty-five minute, classes. Many of these students believed that they retained more information in their yearlong courses than they did in their block classes. Some found they “tuned out” their teachers after the first thirty minutes of class, so ninety minutes was too long for them to pay attention. A few students also believed the shorter class periods helped keep their teachers focused on the most important aspects of the lesson, which helped the students achieve better grades.
Results - - Faculty Surveys The general consensus among faculty members at both schools is that the benefits of block scheduling outweigh any drawbacks. Though one faculty member stated that teachers are required to be more selective in the material they cover due to the time constraints of teaching in a semester, and that important material may have to be left out completely, most teachers feel that the extended class time allows for more detailed and in-depth teaching in the content area. Faculty members who teach labs or hands-on activities actually prefer the block schedule because it is more conducive to their subject area.
Results - - Faculty Surveys Most faculty surveyed agreed that students are required to be more responsible for their own learning, and that can be a problem. Several teachers believed the amount of work covered in a single class could make being absent detrimental to student progress. A computer science faculty member at School A said that students in her classes were often required to work on four to eight different documents in a single class period, making it very easy for a student to get left behind.
Results - - Faculty Surveys The flip side is that many faculty members feel the block allows them to offer students more individualized help when they are having trouble with their course work. According to the surveys, most teachers have adapted their teaching styles to more readily fit the block format, but learners have not been as quick to make the change. Most of those teachers surveyed cited student apathy as a major problem that needed to be addressed.
Results - - Faculty Surveys Only one teacher at either school was adamantly opposed to teaching under the block schedule. The vocal teacher at School B explained that the ninety- minute class period had been almost deadly to his vocal program. He stated that singers cannot perform continuously for ninety minutes, and that there are little if no additional materials for vocal teachers to use in class. Also, students planning to pursue vocal careers are at a loss when forced to take choir for only one semester. Auditions for college choirs are held in the spring, while honors choirs are held in the fall. Students who take chorus or vocal music during one semester have to be absent from other classes during the other or risk losing out on music scholarship opportunities.
Results - - Faculty Surveys Still, as a whole, most of the faculty members at both schools showed a significant preference for the block format. They felt the change in scheduling had helped them use different teaching strategies in their classes. Their students had more time to complete labs, projects, and presentations, which allowed the students a more enriched learning experience.
Results - - Administrator Surveys Three administrators were surveyed at schools A and B. According to the administrators, decreased discipline problems were the greatest benefit of block scheduling. Students change classes half as often on a block schedule, which minimizes the likelihood of a fight occurring during school hours. Another benefit they observed was increased opportunities for teachers to collaborate. This allows for more interdisciplinary projects to be implemented through the school year.
Results - -Administrator Surveys Administrators also felt the block offers students a better chance to become active learners engaged in the learning process, as labs and hands-on classes have more uninterrupted class time to complete course work. Each administrator agreed that the aforementioned benefits could only be reaped if school systems are willing to invest the time and money to train their teachers to adapt to a block schedule. Faculty members must be introduced to and encouraged to use new teaching strategies and techniques to help them adjust to the new format. All administrators also agreed that one downside to block scheduling was that though most teachers surveyed felt they had changed their teaching styles, most of the teachers they had evaluated were still using traditional teaching methods in their classrooms.
Results - - Researcher Journaling Over the course of the study, the researchers kept journals to record student and teacher perceptions of block scheduling throughout the year. The majority of students at School A and B expressed positive feelings about the block. They felt better able to finish homework because they only had four classes at a time. They felt the school year moved faster on a block schedule, and were excited about the prospect of changing classes at Christmas so they could have new courses and teachers. They also believed block scheduling allowed them more time for extracurricular activities.
Results - - Researcher Journaling Some students, however, did express negative opinions. These students preferred traditional scheduling because they believed block courses moved too fast for them at times. Many athletes found it difficult to make up work they missed when they left early for games. Freshmen students in particular had trouble passing classes on the block because of their poor attendance.
Results - - Researcher Journaling Students and teachers at School B expressed concern over the split-block schedule. With the addition of another split-block this year, students were required to take six classes. Students found the schedule confusing, especially when taking midterms and finals. Several students also disliked the split-block classes because they lasted all year. Teachers, too, offered negative opinions on the split-block schedule, especially when concerning planning. Because planning periods were only forty-five minutes long, and one fourth of all teachers were on planning at the same time, it was difficult to finish anything on planning period, and many teachers found themselves taking more papers home to grade.
Results - - Student Writing While preparing for the TCAP Writing Assessment, juniors at School B wrote journal entries on their views about block scheduling. Students from various classes were given several different writing prompts, with each aimed at focusing on a different aspect of block scheduling from the students’ perspective. While the majority of those students participating liked block scheduling (88%), there were several students who expressed negative opinions about the block (12%).
Results - - Independent T-Test An independent T-test was performed on the ACT test scores for the years prior to block scheduling ( , , and ) in comparison to those ACT test scores in the most recent school years ( , , and ) operating on the block schedule. An obtained value of was found with a critical value of on a.05 scale. The obtained value is less than the critical value; therefore, there is no significant difference between the scores before and after block scheduling.
Conclusion The primary goal of this research study was to better determine the effects of scheduling on student ACT scores. There is considerable debate among educators as to whether block or traditional scheduling is the better method to address students’ learning needs. The empirical data collected during this survey show no significant difference between the scores of students on block schedules and those on a traditional schedule.
Conclusion However, the results of other studies discussed in the literature review, as well as the qualitative research conducted for this study, support claims that scheduling does affect student ACT scores, and that block scheduling can have a positive impact on those scores. A secondary goal of this study was to ascertain the effect of block scheduling on other forms of student achievement, including student attitudes and discipline. Again, the qualitative data show that most administrators, teachers, and students believe that block scheduling has a positive impact on both student attitude and discipline.
Discussion It is important to note that, though the schools studied showed no significant difference in ACT scores, the majority of students and faculty at both schools believed block scheduling had a positive impact on the educational experiences of the students. Like many of the studies cited in the literature review, this study found that the greatest influence of block scheduling was in student attitude and discipline. Students at both schools felt better about their classes while on the block.
Discussion By its very nature, block scheduling helped student discipline improve, as students had fewer class changes and, therefore, fewer opportunities to become involved in a conflict or disruption during the school day. Based on the results of this study, it is recommended that School A continue to utilize the block format, and that School B return to the 4X4 block format it began in Both schools should continue to monitor student achievement through ACT scores, course grades, and student discipline.
Discussion In the future, the schools should be willing to make scheduling changes when necessary to meet student needs and should work toward offering more opportunities for teachers to learn new teaching methods better suited to block scheduling.