Friday, May 27, 2016

High School Schedule Changes

These talking point come from one of our commenters. I've chatted with some board members on the subject and it sounds like the high school changes are fairly far along with no alternatives even on the table. So time is short to make improvements here. The recommendation was to send mail pointing out problems with the plan. I'll also summarize all the comments here in a letter to the board at a point when there are enough to makes sense.

3x5 schedule talking points:

The district is considering changing all high schools to a 5 period, 3 trimester schedule (3x5) as a means of helping students meet the new 24-credit graduation requirement in WA State. Instead of a classes meeting 180 days a year for 6 periods a day, classes would meet 120 days a year for 5 periods a day. In theory, students would have the ability to take more classes per year and thereby increase their opportunities to meet the 24-credit graduation requirement. In reality, the 3x5 schedule poses many challenges, and may limit the class options for students. 

How would a 3x5 schedule work?

A class that would normally meet 180 days is compressed into 120 days over the course of two trimesters. A traditional 6 period schedule allows for (6) 50-55 minute classes per day; a 3x5 schedule might have (5) 60-65 min classes per day. A typical course would last two out of the three trimesters, though not necessarily consecutive trimesters. 

How does a 3x5 schedule increase credit opportunities for students?

If students filled their schedules each year, they could potentially earn 30 credits over 4 years, or 7.5 credits per year, compared to the current schedule that allows for 24 credits over 4 years, or 6 credits per year.

What challenges would a 3x5 schedule pose?

> Course content would likely be reduced. A3x5 schedule attempts to cover the same content with 33% fewer classes per year. While classes are slightly longer (60-65 min. in a 3x5 schedule vs. the 50-55 min. in a typical 6 period day), it would be a challenge to cover the same material in 120 days compared to the current 180 days. It would be especially challenging for math and science classes that are paced for covering a topic a day.

> Course continuity would be compromised. A class might meet first and third trimester, with a gap in the second trimester, and no guarantee of the same teacher each trimester. There could be an 8-9 month gap year over year if a course was covered in first and second trimester, then in second and third trimester of the following year.

> Students may not be able to schedule the minimum 6 credits per year, or meet IB diploma requirements, due to the scheduling restrictions. AP and IB classes, with national and international exams on fixed schedules in May of each year, would need to meet in the first and second trimesters of the school year. Students would not only have fewer days of class to cover a significant amount of material, but they would need to self study for the May exams. There would be limited opportunities for year-long electives such as music, or even a needed 6th credit, as the schedule would be full in the first and second trimesters. 

How do other districts manage a 3x5 schedule with the demands of AP and IB classes?

Very few districts with a 3x5 schedule offer the same number of AP and IB courses as Seattle area schools. Some districts schedule an optional zero period (lengthen the school day), or offer AP and IB study sessions outside of the 5 period day.

Here's a link to the official page from the district:


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting. Parents, write the Board. This is a significant change being proposed for all high schools. There is a reason so few schools operate on this schedule currently.

Homestead High School (Wisconsin) is referenced in the Task Force Report as a school using the 3x5 schedule. If you read the report to their school board, you'd realize their district is not comparable to SPS.

The list of cons states: "Students can carry no more than 5 AP classes on their schedule in a year (Currently, six Homestead students are enrolled in 5 AP courses; none are enrolled in 6)." Only (6) students in the entire school are enrolled in 5 AP courses. 6! Ask SPS how many students are currently enrolled in at least 5 AP/IB classes.

"Students have fewer subjects to study at any one time" is listed as a pro. A 3x5 schedule will limit the opportunity for electives for any college prep oriented student. They don't have to be taking a full load of AP/IB classes for them to lose flexibility in scheduling. This is a con, not a pro.

Add to the list of cons:

* Requires reworking of all curriculum to meet faster pace of courses (courses are unlikely to have "increased depth" as suggested in SPS report)
* Student scheduling more challenging

The Task Force Report suggests benefits that are questionable:

Students can earn 30 credits
A college prep course load with a 3x5 schedule may not even allow for 24 credits.

Aligns with parent and student interest in increased course options, flexibility, and down time during the day
A 3x5 schedule is less flexible and decreases course options for many students.

Fewer classes per day means less homework, fewer transitions, reduced stress
Due to the compression of 180 to 120 days, there will be more homework per class and likely much more stress.

All students have equitable access to credit earning opportunities
Students with a college prep course load would have difficulty scheduling 24 credits, let alone 30.

Anonymous said...

Eugene switched to a 3x5 schedule in 2012, but they have gotten some negative feedback from the community and are in the process of reevaluating the common schedule.

Anonymous said...

This is a terrible idea, and I'm not sure who this would benefit. I don't want to move to private or out of the district, but this would be a last straw for us. Writing the board is a good idea, but the district is trying to deal with state mandates without looking at how they can streamline to save money.

If we can't achieve the required number of credits with the current budget, and there is no money in site from the pathetic legislators, SPS HAS to reduce overhead downtown and increase to seven credits per day or lengthen the school year. This isn't just about the ability to stack up dozens of AP credits or the HCC community, this is a bad idea for all students. I can't imagine taking Biology in the fall and spring with photography filling the gap in the winter. The loss of continuity is a big deal.

How are other districts handling the state mandates without needing to force this change?

Anonymous said...

@ Ben, can you please clarify what you meant by your comment that the changes are fairly far along with no alternatives even on the table?

The report itself makes it very clear that there is a lot more work to do before determining that a 3x5 schedule is right for SPS. For example, it says:

While the Task Force had the opportunity to weigh the merits of the 3x5 schedule against other schedule options...the group could not examine fully the feasibility of implementation of the 3x5 across the district. As such, the Task Force recommends continuing with a deeper investigation into the ramifications of the 3x5 schedule. They recommend further work on such things as mock-up master schedules, analysis of risks and rewards, and feasibility re: IB--and we should add AP to that mix.

The report also acknowledges that the 3x5 schedule did not have high levels of support from the principals, high school steering committee, and 24 credit task force members who responded to a survey. Only 46% agreed to some extent with that recommendation! The recommendation about the 3x5 schedule yielded the most variability in agreement. This range of opinions suggests the need for deeper study of the 3x5 schedule as detailed in the recommendation.

So shouldn't we be in the "we really need to look at this option more closely" phase, rather than the "changes are pretty far along" phase? I'd love to know who told you that, what the planned next steps are, etc.


Anonymous said...

I don't have a high schooler yet so hard to judge. But I think I heard that many kids already get 24 credits by graduation, and the students at risk once 24 becomes the new "floor" are the ones who fail a class and now graduate with 21 instead of 24.

Does that sound right? If so, how many students are we talking about here? If it's a small number, aren't there ways to support them (eg, summer school?) rather than revising the entire system for everyone?

I concede that I may be entirely wrong, but I feel like I heard this somewhere in the past and want to understand. Are there older posts somewhere explaining all of this?

MS parent

Anonymous said...

The 3x5 schedule was included in the Superintendent's SMART Goals work session on 5/24 (see Goal 4):

Anonymous said...

Why in the world would we make this change to accommodate the small number of kids who may not get the required number of credits? Extra support, including summer school could be added for those kids, but it's completely crazy to cause such significant problems for the vast majority of kids based on the potential issue of a small subset of kids not reaching the 24 credit requirement. It's especially upsetting that this change would prevent AP and IB programs from working properly.

Ultimately, this issue is the fault of the dysfunctional state legislature that can't get its act together to fund education, but somehow found the time and cross-aisle cooperation to change the number of credits required for graduation without any sort of plan to put it into place or any understanding of the the potential consequences. Another SNAFU (literally).

-Seattle Parent

Anonymous said...

People keep talking about going to private for HS. How realistic is this?

I know of several families who have tried for private and not gained access. Some schools claim acceptance rates of below 20%. Are people talking about leaving the city?


Benjamin Leis said...

Hmm - yes it's not really realistic. I don't moderate here to spread gloom and doom. I'm committed to working within the system. I think we collectively can shape the district to reflect our vision of a quality education. Don't lose hope.

Anonymous said...

I answered my own question - there's a report at the link in the original post. Right now, only about 60% of students who graduate on time graduate with 24 more credits, so 40% currently don't. That's a lot and suggests that in fact something does need to change systemically to meet their needs.

The variance by school is interesting too. 93% and 90% at Cleveland and Hale, respectively, graduate with 24+ credits versus 50% at Ballard. No idea what any of that means though.

MS parent

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for raising this issue, as I hadn't known that SPS was moving forward with this half-baked and unvetted idea. There's now a related post with lots of interesting comments at

I believe that moving to this proposed system would be a disaster for our high schools, and is completely unneeded. High school kids in SPS already take 24 credits with the current system, so the only issue is that if a kid fails a class he'll need to make it up during the summer or through another program, several of which already exist. To change the school year schedule for everyone based on this one scenario of a kid failing a class (for which there are already remedies in place) seems like a completely extreme reaction that would have many negative consequences for the vast majority of kids, and would undermine IB, AP, etc.

-Seattle Parent

Anonymous said...

My college buddy works at Eugene H. S. The 5x3 schedule is a disaster. They are looking at how to bail from it.
NE Guy

No 3x5 said...

I also posted this on the June thread. Please take a look at the comprehensive compilation of all the problems posted on Save Seattle Schools, and email the board! This plan is a 36-point disaster.

Here's a link to the first post (It continues on in three posts):

Anonymous said...

What I don't understand is how this sleight of hand produces more "credits". What is a credit, if not subject-hours over a certain number of days?

Why does this 24-credit requirement exist? Is it really intended to get districts to pack more credits into the year, or is SPS just taking advantage of poorly-written rules?

Cascadia 3rd-grade Dad

Anonymous said...

@ Cascadia 3rd-grade Dad,

The state encouraged this type of sleight of hand. They recognized that it would be challenging for some districts to address the 24-credit requirement, so they changed the definition of a credit to allow "flexibility." The hours requirement was dropped, and now it's just a matter of courses being "taught to the state's essential academic learning requirements (learning standards)" if they exist, or local standards if they don't. Districts get to determine how much course time is needed for students to meet the state’s standards. Meet the minimum bar and you're good to go!

So is SPS taking advantage of poorly written rules? Yes and no. SPS is taking advantage, but they're taking advantage of rules that were intentionally written to be taken advantage of. Which, of course, makes them poorly written in the eyes of many, and negates the intended effect of the 24-credit requirement that necessitated the changes. It's maddening.