Some Md. schools try four 90-minute classes

January 17, 1995|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Sun Staff Writer

The big switch is on: Across Maryland, high schools are changing to a four-period schedule, sending students to fewer but longer classes each day.

The change from the traditional schedule of six or seven classes a day stems from a state requirement that high school pupils take more credits in science, health, foreign languages and technology.

The new schedule doubles the length of class periods to 90 minutes, allowing a full year's material to be covered in a single semester. It has meant radical changes for students and teachers at the two dozen schools in the Baltimore suburbs that already have made the changeover.

"It's important you stay organized," said Farhana Baig, 14, a freshman at Columbia's Oakland Mills High School, which started four-period days this fall. "If you don't, you fall behind very easily."

With longer class periods, teachers who once relied on lectures have to rethink their presentations and adopt new strategies to hold students' attention.

"Some teachers aren't really good at conducting class for an hour and a half. They lecture and you just want to leave. It's really boring," said 17-year-old Sharee Krueger of Columbia's Atholton High, where the shift occurred last year.

There are more potential problems. In some cases, four-period days have resulted in larger class sizes. Many students complain that they end up with scheduling problems because there are fewer classes to choose among each semester. Those absent from school face a more demanding workload when they return.

Baltimore-area school districts began moving toward a four-period day after the state increased its graduation requirements two years ago.

The four-period schedule enables students to enroll in as many as eight more elective classes during their high school years. Theoretically, it also could enable some students to graduate in three years if they can meet the state's requirements.

The schedule has two variations. One lets students earn seven credits a year by taking three 90-minute classes one day and three different 90-minute classes the next. They also take a 55-minute class daily.

The other model allows students to earn eight credits a year. They take four 90-minute classes the first half of the year and four different 90-minute classes the second half.

In Maryland, 24 schools are on a four-period schedule. Baltimore County has the most, a third of its 23 high schools and one middle school. In Howard County, five of eight high schools are on the new schedule and another is expected to switch next year. Carroll, Anne Arundel and Harford counties have one or two schools trying it out.

The four-period day is gaining popularity across the United States as well. Schools in Colorado and Texas have used the schedule for more than five years and school systems in Nebraska, Arkansas, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Vermont are looking at the change.

Locally, the four-period day has won support from science teachers, who say the extended classes mean they don't have to rush through complicated discussions and labs.

For example, since Atholton High switched last school year, bTC biology teacher Sharon Kramer has been able to lecture about a theory and then ask her students to test it with an experiment and discuss their findings -- all in one class meeting. It might have taken as many as three classes before. "We think the four-period day was made for us," she said.

Foreign language and English teachers also like the longer classes. "You can do all different kinds of practices with them in ++ one period," said Janis O'Neal, a Spanish teacher at Ellicott City's Howard High School. "It's fast. It's very intense. You can really get a lot done."

In Anne Arundel County, switching to a four-period day also allowed Chesapeake High School to help some students in academic classes such as algebra, a subject now required for graduation. The school was able to schedule a longer, two-semester course to help students who need more time with the subject.

In Baltimore County, officials note that four-period days have reduced the commotion and lost time from more frequent class changes -- adding an estimated 50 hours of class time to the school year.

But local educators say it's still too early to determine whether the four-period schedule leads to more learning.

A preliminary study at two Howard schools last year was not conclusive on whether the shift resulted in higher grades, but it did note better attendance and higher enrollment in advanced-placement classes.

In Harford County, though, Joppatowne High reported higher grades from switching to four periods -- with 66 students earning straight-A averages vs. about 15 to 20 students beforehand.

Teachers are "willing to take more risks in class because they have the time to assess whether a strategy is working," said Doris L. Williams, Joppatowne's principal. "The kids could really concentrate much better when they had fewer subjects to handle."

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