Starting next school year, Longview high schools will switch from six- to seven-period days in an attempt to improve on-time graduation rates.
But the faculty union and some parents are objecting to the change, saying it will cut a significant amount of classroom time during the school year.
The district is adjusting class periods as a result of a 2014 state requirement that high-school students to complete 24 credits to graduate. Previously, students only had to complete 20 credits, though the district required 22.
With an extra period, students could potentially fail four classes and still be able to graduate on time.
Superintendent Dan Zorn said Monday that the district has discussed how to address the graduation requirement for a few years. The class of 2021 (current freshmen) will be the first students who must meet the new 24-credit requirement.
“If you’re on a six-period day and you’re on a 24-credit requirement, there’s no opportunity for a mistake to be made. A student fails one semester of one class, they won’t graduate,” Zorn said.
“It’s about second chances and making sure that our kids have the best opportunity possible to be able to graduate from high school,” Zorn added.
Staff will teach six out of seven periods each day. Classes will be shorter, 47 minutes, as opposed to 55 minutes. Classes also will be smaller.
Total class time will change by about a minute a day. However, students will lose about 24 hours of instruction time in any one class subject over the course of the year. Teacher’s union president Ray Clift said that’s the equivalent of cutting 1.5 months of instruction time from each class.
Clift also said that 77 percent of high school staff said in a survey by the Longview Education Association that they would prefer to stay with the six-period schedule. The union has filed a grievance over the matter that may need to be decided by an arbitrator.
At Monday night’s school board meeting, some teachers let their feelings be known about the new schedule, which the administration already has adopted.
“Saddling struggling learners with an extra class to manage is like throwing an anchor to a swimmer barely keeping their head above the water rather than tossing them a life ring,” said Mark Morris teacher Chris Coffee. “These kids don’t need more classes to worry about; they need more support. And we, their teachers, will be less able to give them that support if we’re asked to take on the burden of teaching an extra class each day.”
Mark Morris science teacher Steve Powell said individual courses will suffer a 15 percent reduction in class time, resulting in less time for instruction and learning.
“This will leave students less prepared to pass state and national standardized tests, including Advanced Placement exams,” Powell said.
Other teachers suggested that the new schedule will overburden teachers. “It is a lot of energy teaching, and I think teaching seven learning communities would just be over the top,” MM teacher Sue Dean Langlois said.
Board members didn’t say much, though board president C.J. Nickerson acknowledged, “We know how much more difficult the job is today than it was in our time.”
Zorn said a committee of teachers explored several potential models, including block scheduling, a trimester system, and a modified six-period schedule. The committee recommended that the district adopt a seven-period day in which staff taught during five periods. However, Zorn said the district wasn’t financially able to pursue that model.
“To go to teachers teaching five out of seven (periods) … our estimates are in the range of $1.8 million, which would be recurring,” Zorn said.
That cost, he added, would be unsustainable under the new funding model enacted by the Legislature, in which the state rather than local governments funds teacher salaries.
The district wants to continue to increase its graduation rates. R.A. Long High School’s class of 2016 had an 87.8 percent graduation rate, an increase of about 30 percentage points from four years earlier. Mark Morris High School’s graduation rate is comparable, about one percentage point lower than RAL’s rate.
“We need to continue that effort, and it’s such an incredibly important thing especially for our kids at risk (and) our kids in poverty,” Zorn said.