The new trimester schedule at The Dalles High School has delivered on expectations, with increases in attendance and grades and drops in discipline issues.
A 10 percent bump in attendance was found. Compared to the same point last year, the percentage of students attending school 90 percent of the time reached 78 percent, up from the 71 percent rate the previous fall, said Vice Principal Kurt Evans.
It represents a good start, and the goal is to reach 90 percent of students attending 90 percent of the time, Evans said. That is also a goal set by the state.
The ultimate goal is to improve on-time graduation rates, and attendance is a key component of that, Evans said.
The school has departed from its longtime semester system, which had seven classes per semester, and now has three trimesters, with five classes each. Where students had a different schedule each day of the week under the old system, they now have identical schedules all five days of the week.
More students got A’s and Bs and fewer students got Ds and Fs than a year ago, Evans said, “which translates to more students who are staying on track to graduate.”
The number of students who did not get an F improved by seven percent compared to last year, he said. That means seven percent more stayed on track to graduate, he said.
In raw numbers, there were seven percent more A’s and Bs, and four percent fewer of the grades given out were Fs, he said.
And when a student does get an F, they can repeat the class immediately.
Under the old trimester system, they had to stay in a year-long class, even if they got an F the first semester, which meant they were likely to continue with an F. Unless they did summer school, they had to wait a year to retake the class, putting them behind schedule, causing them to forget any material they learned.
Tardies are also down, and are being more efficiently tracked, said Principal Nick Nelson, with each tardy student handed a red ticket to hand off to their teacher.
The school’s auto-caller system now notifies parents of which child, by name, missed which specific class.
Before, it didn’t specify the child and only said they missed a certain number of periods, without defining the class.
“We’re focusing on these little things, and these little things make a big difference as they accumulate,” Nelson said.
He likened it to when New York Mayor Ed Koch focused on subway jumpers as a way to cut crime and improve livability in the Big Apple.
This year, the school added a college-level class, writing 115, to its class offerings.
Right now, the school has 120 kids taking Advanced Placement, or AP classes, 85 taking honors classes, 60 in writing
English Language Arts at Columbia Gorge Community College and 34
taking welding at the college.
The instructional hours for AP classes grew significantly under the trimester schedule, going from 130 hours per year to 195, Nelson said. Band was also stretched to 195 hours. That’s because AP classes and band are the only classes offered all three trimesters. All other classes only last one or two trimesters.
The school is seeing a steady increase in students taking AP classes. At this point in 2011, 64 students took AP, which dropped to 61 in 2012, 41 in 2013, then up to 69 in 2014, to 85 in 2015, and now it’s at 120 in 2016.
“What we’re hoping is to keep that on a gently upward trend,” Nelson
The school is surveying students to find those who have an interest or aptitude for AP classes, but who might not have thought to sign up for the classes due to a lack of confidence or support, Nelson said.
The goal, he said, is “to expand the opportunity for more of our kids to take more rigorous courses.”
As more students sign up for AP classes, more teaching staff are trained over the summer to provide it. The school sends several teachers for AP training every summer, Nelson said.
In a major plus, the trimester schedule also aligns more closely – and almost perfectly in spring – with the college’s schedule, Evans said.
On another matter, the school has also seen a steady decrease in discipline problems.
Officials don’t know exactly why it has gone down, but Evans said it might be one of the intangible benefits of the trimester system that other school districts told him to expect.
Skipping class has also gone down between five and 10 percent, Evans said.
The major daunting aspect of going to a trimester schedule – figuring out the highly complex master schedule — is
largely behind them
The complexity is much greater than a semester schedule. Under a semester schedule, there are seven ways to schedule a class, under the trimester schedule, there are 70 ways, Evans said.
“It’s complicated to fly an airplane, but once you learn, it’s a powerful way to transport goods and people,” Evans said.
The high school went through a number of years where the bell schedule changed yearly, but that was due to deep budget cuts, Evans said.
He made sure the trimester schedule was something that could be maintained even with budget cuts.