Archived Story

Semesters in, trimesters out

Published 11:28am Wednesday, April 21, 2010

By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News

Union High School Principal Paul Hartsig’s recommendation that trimester scheduling be scrapped in favor of six-period semesters for “the 2010-11 school year and beyond” was approved Monday night by the Dowagiac Board of Education.

“Three years ago we embarked on a trimester schedule that replaced an eight-block schedule. At that time we were concerned about freshman failure. With eight-block we were also concerned with the Michigan Merit curriculum coming in,” such as a requirement that ninth graders study algebra, Superintendent Peg Stowers said at Dowagiac Middle School.

“We wanted to be sure we could get all those requirements in. We began a pilot program for (12-week) trimesters.

“During that time, I asked the high school to keep track of the pros and cons with its school improvement team to continue to weigh the trimester schedule’s effects on students and teacher time for teaching. At some point they felt we needed to move on to a different schedule.”

Hartsig outlined “several reasons why this new schedule would be beneficial to students, staff and the district as a whole.”

The high school loses the equivalent of six teachers through the $2 million reduction plan unveiled April 19.

For students
A six-period semester offers a consistent schedule for the year. Most students will be with the same teacher in a subject all year.

Students will have all four core classes every day all year.

There will be no gaps during the year when a student will not have a core class.

The DUHS daily schedule will line up better with the schedules of post-secondary institutions such as Southwestern Michigan College, allowing for easier dual enrollment scheduling.

There is an increased ability for special education students to take a consistent resource lab for the whole year and one third fewer final exams.

For teachers
Hartsig said a six-period semester allows for more time to work with students and to identify their strengths and weakness.

There will be a third less paperwork to keep track of such as syllabus, exams and attendance records.

One third less time will be spent on issues dealing with the start-up of each trimester.
A consistent schedule throughout the entire year will facilitate longer-range curriculum planning.

For the district
Teachers will teach 20 percent more during the school day by increasing from four sections of students a day to five sections of students a day.

There will be a consistent year schedule to coordinate district master calendar planning.
Fewer electives will be needed for students to take to fill their schedules.

Currently, Hartsig said, students need 15 sections of classes under the trimester, but will only need 12 under the semester schedule.

“This will translate in a 20-percent reduction in the number of courses that will need to be offered,” the principal stated.

With trimesters and academic achievement, “We did not see the kind of gains on the Michigan Merit exams that we had hoped. We also saw a decrease in our social studies MEAP scores. One of the reasons for this is that students sometimes didn’t have a social studies class first trimester. Going to a six-period semester will give all students four cores all day, all semester – math, science, social studies and English – every day for the 36 weeks. Our MEAP scores peaked in 2007, which was the first year we were on trimester, and two years later they have decreased each year,” Hartsig commented.

Credit changes required
Under the six-period semester schedule, students will be able to earn 24 credits and not the 30 that were available under the old block or the current trimester systems.

“I am recommending that students be required to earn 22 credits to graduate instead of the current 28 credits,” Hartsig said. “These 22 credits will include four math, four English, three science, three social studies, half physical education, half health, half computer science and one credit in the area of visual, performing or applied arts – which are all required under the Michigan Merit curriculum. This leaves room for five and a half elective credits to graduate with the minimum of 22 credits.”

Hartsig said these new required amount of credits to graduate will be phased in over the next three years as students transition from trimester to semester.
Graduates in:
• 2011 need 26.5 credits to graduate.
• 2012 need 25 credits to graduate.
• 2013 need 23.5 credits to graduate.
• 2014 need 22 credits to graduate – the first group to have all four years under the semester schedule.

These credits may still be modified under state legislation governing issuance of personal curriculums.

Students will still have the opportunity to gain credits as they do now through the testing-out process, online coursework, dual enrollment and summer school, as well as through correspondence work with accredited educational entities.

Credit recovery will also continue to be available to Dowagiac students during the day and after school on a consistent basis.

The Odysseyware online curriculum delivery system will continue to be utilized for this purpose.

Each semester will be broken down into two nine-week marking periods.

Progress reports will be given at the mid-point of each marking period.

A student will earn a half credit for each class passed at the conclusion of each semester.
“We’re going to probably the schedule most of us had when we were in high school,” Hartsig told Larry Seurynck.

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