A Comparative Study of Block Scheduling and Traditional Scheduling on Academic Achievement.
The sample included secondary students from two high schools in the same school district in the Southeastern region of North Carolina. The four North Carolina End-of Course tests (Algebra 1, Biology, English 1, and U. S. History), which are required of all students who graduate with a diploma, provided the necessary data. T-tests were used to compare the two groups' means for each of the four subject areas to determine if a significant difference existed at the .05 level of significance. The findings revealed that students on the traditional schedule scored significantly higher on the Algebra 1, Biology, English I and U. S. History tests than students on the block schedule.
Since the National Commission on Excellence in Education published its report, A Nation at Risk (1983), Americans have questioned our educational effectiveness. In the 1980's and continuing into the 1990's, school administrators and teachers have been criticized regarding the inefficient and ineffective use of school time.
The National Education Commission on Time and Learning (1994) published a report addressing national concerns regarding allocations of time and use of the school day for instructional purpose. According to the report,
learning in America is a prisoner of time. For the past 150 years, American public schools have held time constant and let learning vary. The rule only rarely voiced is simple: learn what you can in the time we make available. It should surprise no one that bright, hardworking students do reasonably well. Everyone else from the typical student to the dropout - runs into trouble. The degree to which today's American school is controlled by the dynamics of clock and calendar is surprising even to people who understand school operations (National Education Commission on Time and Learning, 1994, p. 7).
Cushman (1989) emphasized that today's secondary schools are designed as though students face the same lifestyles their grandparents did while noticeable differences are obvious. Previously, students learned punctuality, obedience to authorities, and tolerance of repetition,k boredom, and discomfort. During the 18th and 19th centuries, students were trained for farm and industrial work. According to Edwards (1991),judgment, decision-making, creativity, high technological knowledge and independence were neither taught nor expected.
The 1990's called for different thinking, behaviors, and practices. Society and its expectations have changed drastically. Things that were once objectionable are now required such as creativity and technology issues.
In an effort to better meet society's expectations and to make better use of gained knowledge, educators are now focusing on educational restructuring. One such focus has been the school calendar year. Another focus has been the time scheduled for classes. Secondary educators now ask the question, "Does the traditional high school schedule most appropriately meet the instructional demands and expectations of teachers and students?" An even more poignant question emerges- "How does student achievement vary with different class schedules?"
Purposes of the Study
The purpose of this study was to compare the test scores in selected school subjects (Algebra 1, Biology, English I and U. S. History) for students on a traditional class schedule with those on a block schedule.
In the early 1990's, the allocation of instructional time (Edwards. 1991: Canady & Rettig, 1993; and Schoenstein, 1944) has been investigated from different perspectives. Yet, there is a lack of scientific support regarding the effect of block scheduling on student academic achievement. Since the number of schools adopting this method of instructional organization is on the increase, a study with a design such as this one could provide public school administrators and decision makers with additional information for determining if block scheduling has an academic advantage over traditional scheduling.
To explore the purpose of this study in a systematic way, the following null hypotheses were tested:
Hypothesis 1: Secondary students' Algebra I scores on the block schedule will not differ significantly from secondary students' Algebra I scores on the traditional schedule.
Hypothesis 2: Secondary students' Biology scores on the block schedule will not differ significantly from secondary students' Biology scores on the traditional schedule.
Hypothesis 3: Secondary students' English I scores on the block schedule will not differ significantly from secondary students' English I scores on the traditional schedule.
Hypothesis 4: Secondary students' U. S. History scores on the block schedule will not differ significantly from secondary students' U. S. History scores on the traditional schedule.
The population for this study was high school students enrolled in a school district in southeastern North Carolina. According to the 1995 State Report Card (North Carolina 1995), the economic profile for this region was less than the state profile. The average household income for this region was $27,274 compared to $38,063 for the state as a whole. Persons in this region with no high school diploma equaled 42.1% of the population as compared to 30% of the population of the state with no high school diploma. The student population in the southeastern region is 51.4% African American, 41.6% white, 6.8% Native American and 0.2% Hispanic.
Cluster sampling was used to select the sample for this study. Two schools were selected because they were the first two of the three high schools in the county to adopt the block schedule instructional model. The North Carolina End-of-Course Assessment instruments were used for data collection. These instruments were used because all students are required to take the end-of-course tests for graduation, thus providing a large sample. Data were collected during the school years 199293, 1993-94, fall semester 1994-95, spring semester 1994-95 and fall semester 1995-96.
A causal/comparative study design was used to compare test scores in four subject areas on a traditional schedule to test scores in those same subject areas on the block schedule for secondary students representing the population. Causal comparative studies (such as this one) seek to discover the causes and effects of a behavior by comparing individuals to whom the behavior has occurred with individuals to whom the behavior has not occurred. Such studies occur after the treatment has taken place (Gall, Borg & Gail, 1996). The study though comparative resembled a historical approach because the groups were already formed based on students' enrollment in the four courses and test results for the sample were readily available.
The school system provided summary data using the Data Analyst software package published by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. Summary data were compiled based on the core items only. For all end-of-course tests, students' percents proficient were used for comparison. Final data analyses were generated using the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) version 6.1. Statistical analyses included descriptive statistics and inferential statistics. (See tables 1 and 2.)
Table 1 Number of Students Tested Per Subjects and Per Method of Scheduling Algebra 1 Biology English 1 U.S. History Trad Block Trad Block Trad Block Trad Block N N N N N N N N 412 415 1029 615 663 603 602 420
Trad = Traditional Schedule
Block = Block Schedule
N = Number of Students
Table 2 Mean Proficiency Scores for Traditional and Block Schedules on End-of-Course Test
Subject Schedule Mean (M) Standard Dev. (SD) Algebra I Traditional 54.20 26.29 Block 48.22 26.89 Biology Traditional 39.00 32.43 Block 34.78 22.66 English I Traditional 47.47 32.07 Block 38.67 26.73 U.S. History Traditional 47.46 26.92 Block 39.68 36.19
An independent t-test was used to test each of the four null hypotheses to determine if a statistical difference existed between the traditional mean and block mean for each of the four subjects.
HYPOTHESES 1: ALGEBRA I
The null hypothesis stated that no significant statistical difference would exist between traditional mean scores and block mean scores. Once the 1-test was performed, a significant statistical difference was found at the .05 level of significance, (L=3.23, p .05). Therefore, the null hypothesis was rejected.
HYPOTHESIS 2: BIOLOGY
The null hypothesis stated that no significant statistical difference would exist between traditional mean scores and block mean scores. However, when the t-test was performed, a statistical difference was found at the .05 level of significance, (t=2.73, p [is less than] .05). Likewise, the null hypothesis which suggested no difference was rejected.
HYPOTHESIS 3: ENGLISH I
The null hypothesis stated that no significant statistical difference would exist between the traditional mean scores and block mean scores. Once again, the t--test showed that a statistical difference existed at the .05 level of significance, (t-=5.32, p [is less than] .05). The null hypothesis was rejected.
HYPOTHESIS 4: U. S. HISTORY
The null hypothesis stated that no significant statistical difference would exist between traditional mean scores and block mean scores. After applying the t-test, a significant statistical difference was found at the .05 level of significance, (t+4.42, p [is less than] .05). Again, the null hypothesis stating no difference was rejected.
The statistical analyses on the four null hypotheses showed that in each case, the mean score for the traditional schedule was consistently higher than the mean scores for the block schedule. Based upon the results of the t-test and its application, traditionally scheduled students rather than the anticipated block scheduled students demonstrated significantly higher scores for Algebra 1, Biology, English 1, and U. S. History.
Summary and Discussion of Results
This research compared the academic achievement of students who received instruction on the traditional schedule to the academic achievement of students who received instruction on the block schedule. Assessment instruments used to collect data for comparison were the North Carolina End of-Course tests. Two years (1992-93, 199394) of "traditional" data were used to represent achievement on traditional schedule. School years 1994-95 (two semesters) and 1995-96 (one semester) were used to represent achievement on the block schedule. A total of 2,706 students' scores was available for the traditional schedule and a total of 2,053 students' scores for the block schedule.
The mean scores on the traditional schedule were consistently higher than the mean scores on the block schedule which came as a surprise. Algebra 1, Biology, English I and U. S. History each had higher traditional mean scores than the block mean scores and revealed significant statistical differences in favor of the traditional schedule.
The results of the study did not support Carroll's findings as expected. Carroll (1994) found support for block scheduling using the students' final classroom grades for comparison. Carroll's findings may be due to the fact that classroom grades were used rather than standardized tests scores and one questions if classroom grades are more closely related to class curriculum than to class schedules.
Another issue may be the length of time the students were on the block schedule. Shortt and Thayer (1997) indicated that the first year on the block schedule is very demanding and many teachers do not cover as much content as they did on the traditional schedule. Since the end-of course tests are designed to measure what has been learned throughout the entire course, perhaps more content was assessed than is normally assessed with teacher-made tests. Therefore, the time factor could have contributed to the traditional mean scores being higher than the block mean scores.
The findings of this research support some of the findings of Skrobarcek, et al. (1997). Skrobarcek and his colleagues reported that for a group of high school students taking Algebra 1, the block classes consistently had a higher failure rate than the traditional classes.
This study suggests that instructional programs that meet the needs of students and prepare them for the changing technological society they will face is still needed and advocates additional research in the area. Several innovations are being made and should be continued under close scrutiny. However, wholesale block scheduling alone, may not be the most productive long-term solution to inadequate academic achievement for high school students. Educators must continue to study research conducted in the area and conduct research themselves in an attempt to design better scheduling alternatives that more adequately meet the needs of students and teachers since block scheduling does not meet all the desired outcomes.
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Dr. William W. Lawrence, Professor of Education, North Carolina Central University. Dr. Danny D. McPherson, Principal, West Columbus High School, Cerro Gordo, North Carolina.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Dr. William W. Lawrence, Professor of Education, North Carolina Central University, 1801 Fayetteville Street, Durham, North Carolina, 27707.