Gains in student success marked in block schedule’s first year

four high school students stand next to a table during a problem-solving activity using ping pong balls

During the first day of school on Sept. 6, high school advisories did team-building activities to help students flex their collaboration and problem-solving skills.

As Broadalbin-Perth High School begins its second year under a block scheduling system, school leaders are aiming to expand upon the success of its first year. First-year data showed gains in student performance, and staff and students say they are benefiting from an improved school culture.

What is block scheduling?

Block scheduling was implemented at BPHS during the 2017-18 school year as part of the district’s five-year comprehensive plan. It’s part of the larger goal to structure the learning environment to better promote student achievement. Under the block schedule, students attend four 74-minute class periods each day, replacing a former eight-period schedule of 41-minute classes.

How is block scheduling increasing student success at the high school?

“It has settled the days down,” Principal Mark Brooks said. “Students can pace themselves and not be in a rat race, so there are gains in achievement and less mental health issues.”

Data from the first year shows increases in course passing rates. In the first quarter, there was a 32 percent overall increase in the number of students passing all of their classes, compared to the 2016-17 school year.

Administrators will continually evaluate the system’s long-term effects on student performance. But, research suggests the gains will continue. The National Education Association says students in block scheduling make greater academic strides than students in schools using traditional schedules. Such benefits include higher GPAs, lower failure rates, lower dropout rates, higher college enrollment rates and slightly higher SAT scores.

How does block scheduling build better relationships between students and staff?

Guest speaker stands in front of school auditorium filled with seated high school students

BPHS welcomed former professional basketball player Chris Herron for a schoolwide assembly on Sept. 7. Herron spoke to students about substance abuse, addiction and recovery. Having a daily advisory in the block schedule enables the school to hold events without cutting into instructional time.

An instrumental part of the block scheduling system’s success is an element called advisory. It’s a daily, school-wide period that builds flexibility into the school day. They can be used for assemblies, presentations or grade-level events. Or if nothing is planned, students can use it as a study hall, as time to get extra help, to make up missed work, to see their counselors or just spend one-on-one time with their teachers.

National studies show that in block scheduling programs, students tend to establish closer relationships with teachers. Because of advisory, that is also the case at B-P.

School counselor Charla Simonson says the advisory period has had a positive impact on students’ social and emotional well-being, and bettered the staff’s ability to connect with students.

“Teachers are matched with 15-20 students, and they are also tracking grades and talking about goals,” Simonson said. “It increases the students’ connections to adults in the building—someone who will really look out for them. They’re seeing them every single day.”

How does block scheduling create a better transition from high school to college?

When B-P alumnus Ashton Fariello started SUNY New Paltz this fall, he says he wasn’t daunted by the thought of sitting through 90-minute long classes that only meet a couple times a week.

He credits this to the block scheduling system he experienced his senior year at B-P.

“I feel like I have an advantage because I know what it’s like to sit through a long class,” Fariello said.

In addition to building up stamina and preparing for the transition to college, Fariello said other advantages of the block schedule are those that have positively impacted the school’s culture.

“It’s more calm and laid back, and we have more time to focus on lessons, and it is like a collegiate atmosphere,” Fariello said.

How is the middle school preparing to implement block scheduling?

The middle school expects to implement block scheduling once the district’s ongoing capital project is complete. Middle school Principal Wayne Bell said his building is actively preparing for that transition with increased professional development for faculty and staff, including opportunities to see the high school faculty teach in a block schedule. The middle school will also incorporate multiple block scheduling experiences into the regular school day this year.