ATWATER -- Buhach Colony High School's principal officially announced Tuesday at a faculty meeting that next August the school will change its four-class block schedule to a six-period schedule -- a shift that has sparked a lot of frustration among students and teachers.
The decision was made by the principal, Stacy McAfee, with the support of the Merced Union High School District (MUHSD).
Days before the official announcement, several Buhach Colony High School students and teachers expressed dissatisfaction over the proposal because they said it favored standardized test scores over student learning.
Teachers speculated that the schedule switch was a result of the school's 2010 Academic Performance Index (API), a number comprised of standardized test scores, which was the lowest of all schools in the district.
The school had an API of 735 and it failed to make its federal academic benchmarks for certain subgroups.
The state has set 800 as the API goal for all schools.
George Sziraki, assistant superintendent for MUHSD, confirmed that was the reason for the schedule change.
The school is in its second year of program improvement (PI), a designation given to schools that fail to meet federal benchmarks, he said. To get out of PI, a school needs to make its federal marks two years in a row.
Each year a school is in PI, it has to make adjustments, he added. In year three, a school would have to endure a number of sanctions, such as letting go of faculty, he added. "(The school) is trying to be proactive," he said.
Another reason for the proposed change is that the school has 36 fewer days of instruction a year than the rest of MUHSD schools. That could be handicapping them, Sziraki added.
John Hall, a Buhach Colony High School (BCHS) special education teacher, said many of the teachers at the school support block scheduling because it's more conducive for learning, but not for test taking.
The way block schedules work is that students take four classes a semester; each period lasts 88 minutes. All other high schools in the district have schedules where students take six 55-minute classes.
On the block schedule, one semester of a subject counts as taking the class for an entire year, so students can finish all the math requirements early or only take math once a year.
In terms of test-taking, if a student takes math in his first semester, then tests in April, the student might not remember all of the concepts and this could be reflected in his score.
One teacher, who asked to remain anonymous because she feared retaliation, said students who are on the block schedule can take 32 classes over their high school career. At all other high schools they would would only be able to take 24 classes.
They also have more of a chance to take electives, she added.
"We are operating on a higher level because we can go into greater detail, she said. "The way I see it, we're putting the needs of adults who want to point to a number over students becoming lifelong learners."
Students are the ones who are wondering how filling in a printed bubble on a test is going to prepare them for life, she added. "Will it make them more competitive?" she asked.
Alicia Pattison, 16, said she could have gone to Atwater High School but chose BCHS because of the block schedule.
It prepares students for college because their class schedules are similar to college schedules.
Jessica Munday, a 15-year old BCHS student, said she feels as if she learns much more with a block schedule. "Our classes are longer so we have more time to go over subjects instead of rushing them," she said. "I had six classes in middle school, and now I have four. It's less stressful."
Last Thursday, a group of roughly 100 students walked out of class during second period and headed to the school's amphitheater to protest the change.
Thirteen students were cited by police for an education violation of creating a disturbance during school hours, said Armando Echevarria, Atwater police detective. That's a misdemeanor. The probation department will determine punishment.
The students were being defiant. "Nothing escalated to an assault," he said. "We assisted in rounding up the students."
The students may also face disciplinary actions from the school, he said.
Despite resistance from students and teachers, the change will go forward.
This is the era of accountability, Sziraki said, and schools have to adhere to expected outcomes that the state places on them.
Reporter Jamie Oppenheim can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.