The Effects of a  Block Schedule on Student Achievement
Bradley D. Vestal


Table of Contents

      

The present study was an investigation into block scheduling practices in the secondary school setting. Specifically, I examined the effects of block scheduling on student achievement. For the purposes of this paper I define student achievement as any positive result(s) occurring to the student because of the schooling process.

 I begin my review of the literature with an overview of scheduling practices in the secondary school setting. I then examine problems with block scheduling. Next, I discuss student drop-out rates and student achievement. Then, I examine the latest movement for block scheduling. I then present three case studies on block scheduling. A concluding section completes the review. (TOC)      

The most common type of class schedule used in U.S. secondary schools is the traditional schedule, whereby classes meet daily and students attend six, seven, or eight classes a day. Some students excel under this type of scheduling but others do not (TEA, 1999).

A variety of block schedules have been used by schools in the United States. One type of block schedule is commonly called the 4 x 4, accelerated block, or Copernican schedule. In this structure, students attend only four classes per day for ninety minutes each, but the same classes meet every weekday and end when the semester ends. Other schools utilize a modified block schedule, whereby some classes meet in the traditional style of 45 minutes per day for five days a week and others meet for 90 minutes on alternating days, commonly called an A/B block, or alternate-day schedule (TEA, 1999). (TOC)   

TEA (1999) defines a block schedule as any “school scheduling practice that organize[s] at least part of the school day into larger blocks of time (more than 60 minutes).” (TOC)                  

Problems with traditional schedules have been researched and documented by the Texas Education Agency. Findings reveal that shorter classes leave little time for reflection, building connections, or in-depth studies (as cited in TEA, 1999).Also, traditional schedules do not allow time for personal relationships that are needed to foster learning to form between teachers and students (Irschmer, 1996).Since students spend more time in the hallways, discipline problems are more common (Guskey & Kifer, 1995).Furthermore, a 45 to 50 minute class period is not enough time to expose students to the curriculum, especially when labs, discussion, and extension activities are needed. Finally, “the rigid traditional schedule does not allow for students who need extra time” (TEA, 1999, p.6).

Scheduling can affect drop-out rates. Carroll (1994) reported significant reductions in dropout rates in a study into six schools using block scheduling while finding no strong evidence that A/B block schedules affected drop-out rates. Kramer (1997) reported a reduction in drop-out rates in most of his research on intensive block scheduling. Reid, Hierck, and Veregin (1994) reported that the projected graduation in one British Columbia high school increased from 70 %to 90 % after one year on a block schedule. Furthermore, W. Reid (1995) reported a large number of drop-outs returning to school to complete courses that they needed to graduate when they found out about the accelerated block schedule (as cited in TEA, 1999).

Canady (1990) and Sturgis (1995) argued that scheduling is critical to increased student achievement, but some studies have been contradictory. Eineder and Bishop (1997) compared test scores in one school and found no difference in results between students on a traditional schedule and those following a block schedule. In North Carolina and Alabama, scores of algebra and geometry students were examined and researchers revealed that the results from students on block schedules did not significantly differ from students who were on traditional schedules (as cited in TEA, 1999).

Canady and Rettig (1995), and Shortt and Thayer (1997), indicated that many problems may be addressed by implementing an appropriate schedule. Carroll (1994) stressed its importance in improving teacher-student relationships, and Irschmer (1996) contended that block scheduling gives teachers and students more time to plan for instruction and learning. Discipline problems are fewer because the number of class changes each day is reduced (Guskey & Kifer, 1995).Shortt and Thayer (1999) also argue that a variety of instructional techniques may be used when class periods are longer, individual student learning needs can be met, the number of students who can be accelerated is increased, and students can take more courses in block schedules (as cited in TEA, 1999). (TOC)   

Chaparral High School, in Las Vegas, Nevada, changed from a traditional six-period day to an alternating A/B block schedule. Under the new schedule, students received the same amount of instruction as they did in the traditional schedule. Recognizing the need for change, West (1996) conducted extensive research into the effects of block scheduling on attendance rates, school atmosphere, and student achievement. West found that achievement rates did not decrease, attendance usually increased, and stress levels were lowered when his school used the block schedule (West, 1996).  

Administrators and faculty followed a six-step change process as recommended by the Center for Leadership in Education. In 1996, after two and one-half years of block scheduling, more than 90% of the staff supported it. West (1996) reported a stronger emphasis on critical thinking problems, an improvement in the school-to-work program, and special education students achieving more success in their mainstreamed classes. West also revealed that “standardized test scores have remained constant while ACT, SAT, and AP scores have increased slightly” (West, 1996, p. 12). 

Wronkovich, Hess, and Robinson (1997) conducted a 3-year study of two suburban high schools in Ohio: Coventry Local Schools and Manchester Local Schools. Coventry used an intensified semester-long block while Manchester used the traditional year-long structure. Wronkovich, Hess, and Robinson compared Ohio Colleges Early Math Placement Test (EMPT) scores at the end of the students’ junior year to determine retention levels in Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II. 

Wronkovich, Hess, and Robinson (1997) concluded that the traditional schedule for mathematics was more effective in this case study. The students who participated in the block scheduled classes, did so by choice, and reported classes to be more enjoyable, but scored lower on the EMPT. Overall, participants’ attitudes toward the block schedule remained positive, while students in other traditional classes were largely opposed to attending longer classes. The intensified block schedule benefited some students, but these researchers warn that an effort to place all students into blocked classes may be detrimental because of the possibility of resistance to change. Wronkovich, Hess, and Robinson concluded that more research needs to be conducted before conclusions are reached concerning block scheduling and student achievement.

Schroth and Dixon (1995) completed a case study of two Texas middle schools, specifically focusing on seventh-grade math students. School 1 had 296 students in seventh grade and used a traditional schedule of 50 minutes per class period. School 2 had 395 seventh graders and used an A/B block for higher achievers and 90 minutes a day, five days a week, for lower achievers. 

Schroth and Dixon (1995) compared math scores on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) and found no significant difference in the average scores of the two groups. School 1 went from a mean score of 62% to 65% from 1994 to 1995 and School 2 increased from 61% to 63% in the same amount of time.

From 1994 to 1995, School 1 had a mean score of 83% and 82% respectively among higher achieving students. Scores of the higher achievers in School 2 remained virtually unchanged, showing a drop from a mean score of 85 in 1994 to 84.5 in 1995.Schroth and Dixon concluded that “documentation of improved student achievement as shown by gains in student test scores is sparse” (p. 9). See Table of Case Studies (TOC)   

Summary

After reviewing the literature concerning the impact of block scheduling on schools, I have concluded that most of the studies have focused on the effects of the accelerated block on a wide arrange of issues, such as drop-out rates, attendance, discipline, and student achievement. Studies have also been completed using questionnaires, surveys, or interviews in an effort to gain insight into the perceptions of teachers and students concerning block scheduling. Very little research has been completed focusing on the A/B block and its effects on student grades and/or test scores. Research that has been conducted on student achievement in the A/B block schedule is limited. (TOC)   


Case Studies on Block Scheduling

West, 1996

A/B Block

Teacher/student opinions and test scores

What are perceptions of the A/B block?

Chaparral H.S.

Improved scores, teacher/student support

Wronkovich, Hess, and Robinson, 1997

4 x 4 Block

Test scores

What effect does block schedule have on math achievement?

High School juniors at two suburban high schools

Students in traditional classes scored higher on EMPT.

Schroth and Dixon, 1995

A/B Block, 4 x 4 Block

TAAS Math scores

What is the effect of block scheduling on TAAS math scores?

691 students

No significant improvement.

(TOC)    


 

Websites on Block Scheduling

 

Center for Innovative School Scheduling - What We've Learned
See what we have learned about block scheduling. Compare the A/B block to the 4 x 4 block.

Center for Innovative School Scheduling -- Current Research
Current research, articles, books.

Center for Innovative School Scheduling -- What We've Learned
More of what we have learned about block scheduling. Issues on school climate.

Center for Innovative School Scheduling -- Workshops and ...
Discipline problems and teaching time.

Spring '99 -- Of Note
Big names in block scheduling research.

EDLF Research and Publications
Books, authors, research, and other publications.

Center for Innovative School Scheduling -- Workshops and ...
A workshop focusing on the teaching of foreign languages in the block schedule.

Teacher Webquest
A Greek mythology lesson plan for a block schedule.

Educational Issues in Brevard County - Block Scheduling
Find out why the Florida school district adopted block scheduling and why many are against it. Link to studies and student/teacher experiences.

University of Minnesota - Block Scheduling
Provides answers to common questions about block scheduling. Find a discussion forum, research reports and curriculum and implementation tips.
 

CH-UH School District - Block Scheduling Resources
Cleveland school district offers reports and discussions about block scheduling. Includes details from schools participating in the program.
 

Block Scheduling Statistics
Angola High School statistical report.Charts and stats.

Return to (TOC)   


Terminology

 

block scheduling - Any school scheduling practice that organizes at least part of the school day into larger blocks of time (more than 60 minutes).

secondary school - Grade levels 7 through 12.

student achievement - Any positive result(s) occurring to the student because of the schooling process. Some studies have more specific criteria (example: score of 70).

traditional schedule - A schedule whereby classes meet daily, Monday through Friday, for 45 to 50 minutes each, during two semesters.

4 x 4 schedule - A schedule whereby classes meet Monday through Friday, for approximately 90 minutes each, and extend over the course of one semester. Also known as a Copernican schedule, or an accelerated block schedule.

accelerated block schedule - See 4 x 4 block schedule. Also known as a Copernican schedule.

Copernican schedule - See 4 x 4 block schedule. Also known as an accelerated block schedule.

modified block schedule - A schedule that offers students classes in a traditional format, and a block format.

A/B block schedule - A schedule where by classes meet on alternating days - i.e. every other day - for approximately 90 minutes each over the course of two semesters. Also known as an alternating-day schedule.

alternate-day schedule - See A/B block schedule.

drop-out rates - The percentage of students who leave school each year without finishing.

TEA- Texas Education AgencyTable of Contents

 


References

        Block Scheduling Resources. Retreived August 1, 2001 from http://tiger.chuh.cleveland-heights.k12

        Booker Design. Retrieved August 1, 2001 from www.jbit.com

        Canady, R. L.(1990, Jan.). Parallel block scheduling: A better way to organize a school. Principal, 69, 3, 34-36.

        Canady, R. L., & Rettig, M. D.(1995). Block scheduling: A catalyst for change in high schools. Princeton NJ: Eye on Education, Inc.

        CAREI (2001, August 1). Retrieved August 5, 2001 from http://carei.coled.umn.edu

        Carroll, J. (1994, Mar.). Organizing time to support learning. School Administrator, 51, 26-28, 30-33.

        CISS (1998, Sept. 12). Retrieved August 1, 2001 from http://curry.eduschool.virginia.edu

        EDLF Research and Publications (2000, Apr. 11). Retrieved August 1, 2001 from http://curry.eduschool.virginia.edu

Guskey, T. R., & Kifer, E.(1995, Apr.) Evaluation of a high school block schedule restructuring program. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco, CA.  

Irschmer, K.(1996, Jan.). Block scheduling in high schools. Oregon School Study Council Bulletin, 39, 6, 34-43.

Kramer, S. L.(1997, Mar.). What we know about block scheduling and its effects on math instruction, part I. NASSP Bulletin, 81(587): 69-82.

Mastrotocco, M., Elston, H., and Payne, M. E.. Greek Mythology Web Quest. Retrieved August 8, 2001 from http://www.people.virginia.edu

Reid, W., Hierch, T., & Veregin, L. (1994, Dec.). Measurable gains of block scheduling. School Administrator, 32-33.

Schroth, G., & Dixon, J.(1996, Sep.). The effects of block scheduling on seventh grade math students. ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. (ED 387 887)

Shortt, T. L. & Thayer, Y. V.(1998, Dec./1999, Jan.) Block scheduling can enhance school climate. Educational Leadership, 56, 4, 76-81.

Snyder, D. (1999, Nov. 15).Angola HS Statistical Report. Retrieved August 1, 2001 from www.msdsteuben.k12.in.us

Sturgis, J. D. (1995, summer) Flexibility enhances student achievement. NASSP AP Special: The Newsletter for Assistant Principals 10, 4, 1-2.

Texas Education Agency Office of Policy Planning and Research: Division of Research and Evaluation.(1999, Sep.) Block scheduling in Texas public high schools. (Rpt. 13).Austin, TX: Author.

West, M.(1996, Oct. 24). Block schedule: Breaking barriers. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, New Orleans, LA. 

        Wronkovich, M., Hess, C. A., & Robinson, E. (1997, Dec.). An objective look at math outcomes based on new research into block scheduling. NASSP Bulletin, 81, 593, 32-41.

 TOC

Return to ePapers