Academic journal article High School Journal

High School Schedule Changes and the Effect of Lost Instructional Time on Achievement

Academic journal article High School Journal

High School Schedule Changes and the Effect of Lost Instructional Time on Achievement

Article excerpt

High school students who change their class schedules after the start of the school year may miss class time before their schedules are finalized. This loss of class time is expected to lead to a loss of learning opportunities, and thus to lower student achievement. We examine a school with an unexpectedly large number of such schedule changes. Contrary to our expectation, students who were not in class because they were changing schedules had achievement equal to students who were in class, even when the students changing schedules missed many days of class. While this indicates that students were not penalized for schedule changes, it also suggests that all students had reduced opportunities to learn.

Introduction

Time is an important school resource. Research consistently shows that more instructional time leads to higher achievement (see, for example, Wiley, 1976; Karweit and Slavin, 1981; Dreeben & Gamoran, 1986). By itself, time is not sufficient for learning. Numerous other factors, including individual student ability, teachers' quality of instruction, and school organization, are involved (Carroll, 1985; Hallinan, 1987; Kilgore & Pendleton, 1993). However, time is a minimum condition for learning because it sets the boundaries for teachers' opportunities to teach and students' opportunities to learn. Without time available for the teaching of academic material, students will not be exposed to such material, and therefore will be unable to learn it. For this reason, school policies that decrease the amount of time available for teaching and learning should be discouraged.

Time is a limited school resource and, in high schools, is structured according to both school and student schedules. Teachers' schedules set the maximum amount of instructional time they will have for a particular class. Students' schedules set the maximum number of hours they will be exposed to that course material during the school day. The typical teacher in high school has approximately 75 hours of class time to present a semester's worth of material (National Education Commission on Time and Learning, 1994).

The amount of classroom time available for learning is reduced in many ways. Whole school events such as fire drills, assemblies, and school announcements may remove students from the classroom or otherwise prevent instruction during that time. Within the classroom, teachers spend time on classroom management, taking attendance, and restoring order after disruptions. Teachers also vary in their effectiveness at restoring order quickly and in moving swiftly from classroom management back to teaching and learning. All of these circumstances affect the amount of time available for teaching and learning.

Such losses of instructional time are normal. Fire drills, school assemblies, school announcements, and teachers' effective use of time are part of every school. Schools do not attempt to eliminate all interruptions of instructional time, but try to ensure that such interruptions are either important or minimized.

Other losses of instructional time are more problematic. In particular, some losses of instructional time can be a direct but unintended result of school policies or practices. Schedule changes are one such area where school policies may result in a needless loss of instructional time, to the potential detriment of student learning.

Under ideal conditions, every student in a high school would begin each semester with a complete and correct schedule. This would allow students to attend all of their classes and present teachers with a stable classroom group. In practice, this ideal is rarely, if ever, realized. Some students start the year with incomplete or incorrect schedules, which must be corrected. Such schedule errors and changes can cause students to miss classes until their schedules are finalized. To the extent that effective teaching and learning occur in the classes missed, the time lost due to schedule changes will have negative consequences for student progress. …

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