The issues: Classroom impact stirs debate

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High school students saw the greatest impact of classroom-level changes implemented by the current Douglas County School Board.

The 2012-13 introduction of a block schedule at Douglas County's high schools was designed to lower class sizes, increase electives and cut costs. It also added a class to most high school teachers' workloads.

Most classes have expanded to 90 minutes each, as have off-periods common to juniors and seniors. Those whose days end with an off-period finish classes by mid-day, instead of the previous schedule's 2:50 p.m. dismissal time.

With the conversion, high school students lost about 10 hours of instructional time per credit.

Dan McMinimee, assistant superintendent of secondary education, said during a May 21 presentation to the Douglas County School Board that district-wide studies show the change to a block schedule succeeded in driving down class sizes with minimal impact to teachers' planning time and student load — all while student achievement stayed high.

However, much of the data used to support that conclusion was based only on freshmen — who are not allowed to leave school during the day and do not have off-periods.

Some students said the longer off-periods are good preparation for the less traditional schedule of college, and give them time to do homework during the day instead of in the evening.

Some recent graduates said off-periods can send up a red flag to college admissions departments.

According to McMinimee, college representatives said the block schedule is not cause for alarm.

“My experience has been it's never the type of schedule you're on,” he said. “It's the GPA, the test scores, the rigor of classes you take.”

Some student said the rigor is harder to obtain under the block schedule because the most popular classes fill quickly, leaving them with limited options.

Parent Kris Mascarenas said she paid about $1,000 to enroll her daughter in two online Advanced Placement classes. Dakota wanted to attend Stanford University, and the family felt she needed additional weighted classes not available to her at Douglas County High School to ensure her acceptance.

“She realized she really needed to continue to have a rigorous, difficult schedule for a college like Stanford to even consider her,” Mascarenas said. “If it hadn't been for her ambition, she would not have gotten in.”

What colleges consider rigorous varies. According to www.internationalcollegecounselors.com, “there is no one deciding, defining scale for `rigor.'”

“For the most selective colleges, students need to take the most rigorous curriculum available within their own high school,” the website reads. “If the high school does not offer AP courses or enough AP courses, know that colleges are aware of different situations that may restrict what courses can be taken. What they really expect that students excel in the opportunities to which they do have access.”