Students’ engagement during block day periods has undergone a net decrease since the administration introduced block days at the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year, according to a recent student survey run by the school administration in comparison to a Globe poll of 393 students published in October 2014.
The most recent survey, which was emailed to students on Feb. 11 of this year, yielded 948 student responses. They answered questions regarding learning, class-to-class transitions, lesson plans, engagement and stress in the context of the block day—or X/Y day— schedules, during which students attend four classes a day, each for 80 minutes. Each question presented a statement on the subject to which students responded on a scale from one to five; one indicated strong disagreement, three was assumed to indicate indifference and five indicated strong agreement.
A poll that paralleled the administration’s student survey gauged 111 teacher opinions on block days. They, too, reacted to statements regarding extended periods on a one to five scale.
Results of the student survey showed a greater percentage of students who now feel less interested during periods of longer class time versus periods of regular length than that in the fall of 2014. The recent survey also revealed students’ favorability toward fewer class periods and transitions, as well as a consensus that teachers teach differently on block days.
Results from the faculty survey illustrated teachers’ apparent difficulty in covering the required curricula with the block days integrated into the school’s schedule. They also unveiled mixed feelings about w h e t h e r block days provide a unique opportunity for students to enhance their understanding of course material.
Data collected by The Globe after the initial implementation of the extended periods in fall of 2014 suggested that 35.5 percent of students felt more engaged during classes on block days than they did in classes on regular days. However, this year’s survey showed a fall from that figure, with only 27.3 percent of students reporting that they agree or “strongly agree” with the statement that block day classes are more “engaging” than those on normal days. About 46 percent of current students said they disagree or “strongly disagree” with the statement.
When prompted with the statement, “I learn more on X/Y days,” students gave an average answer of 2.8 out of five with only 27.6 percent of students agreeing or “strongly agreeing” with the statement.
Despite the fall in engagement, 56.8 percent of students answered with a four or five to the statement, “I like having fewer class periods and transitions during the course of the day.” There was also notable agreement on the subject of stress as it relates to the block day system. Nearly 46 percent of students agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “X/Y days reduce my stress.” Around 30 percent of surveyed students disagreed with the claim, however, and 23.8 percent said they were indifferent.
This more positive consensus on the issues of stress and class-to-class transitions is not dissimilar to more broad results collected in 2014. Then, 76 percent of surveyed students said they support the decision to include block days in the MHS schedule.
On the subject of their teachers’ lesson plans, surveyed students expressed a general opinion that teaching methods on block days differed from those on regular days. The statement “Teachers teach differently on block days” was met with 49.9 percent agreement, 23.6 percent disagreement and 26.5 percent indifference.
In contrast, results from the faculty poll yielded only 31.8 percent agreement to the statement, “I teach differently on block days,” while 30.9 percent said they disagree with the claim and 27.3 percent said they were indifferent.
As written in an article accompanying The Globe’s October 2014 poll, “A major concern over the block scheduling was how teachers would use the extra time.” When the block schedule was enacted, teachers were required to submit their lesson plans to the administration for review. That requirement was lifted this year.
Some of the most decisive results from the teacher survey were also, perhaps, some of the most concerning. About 45 percent of teachers surveyed disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement “X/Y days provide enough time to cover course curricula.” Thirty percent responded indifferently. Just under a quarter of those surveyed agreed or “strongly agreed” that block days provide enough time to cover their courses’ material.
Still, a notable 44.9 percent of responding teachers agreed or strongly agreed that “X/Y days allow me to delve deeper into concepts,” and 36.9 percent agreed that “X/Y days provide students with an opportunity to enhance their learning and understanding of a concept.”
Yet in both cases, the majority of teachers surveyed answered either indifferently or in disagreement—raising a question with which administrators had to grapple in reviewing the survey’s results: is indifference a call for change?
They concluded that it was not. In a statement to The Globe, Principal Elizabeth Clain informed of the Scheduling Committee’s decision to maintain the same schedule over the next school year.
“While there were mixed responses to specific questions, there were a lot of middle of the road responses” she wrote, “Thus the committee drew the conclusion to keep a steady course and maintain our current schedule.
By Andrew Ballard