Issaquah School Board preserves Liberty High School’s block schedule

December 18, 2012

By Lillian O'Rorke

Steve Rasmussen

A celebratory cry gushed from the audience Dec. 12 as the Issaquah School Board voted 4-1 to preserve the eight-period block schedule at Liberty High School.

“The data to support a six-period day has always seemed to me to be weak,” board member Chad Magendanz said. “At this point, I think it is premature to make a change without a compelling case driving it.”

Since 1995, Liberty has used an eight-period block schedule where students take four 90-minute classes each day. Many in the school’s community like that eight periods give students more chances to explore electives. This, supporters of the block schedule say, cultivates creativity, innovation and a commitment to learning.

“I think we have something at Liberty, that is evidenced by the groundswell of feedback from the community, that says this is very valuable to us,” board President Brian Deagle said. “I don’t know how to measure it. We haven’t been measuring it, yet it’s been proposed that we get rid of it.”

However, Liberty’s schedule does have some drawbacks. Primarily, the existing block schedule gives students 127 hours per class each year, where Issaquah High School has 161 hours and Skyline High School has 165 hours. The subject has been a hot topic of debate for the past several months.

The Liberty Schedule Committee, put together by the school district, spent two months looking at test scores, gathering input from the community and researching schedule options, before voting unanimously Oct. 30 for a seven-period schedule.

A final report was sent to Superintendent Steve Rasmussen Nov. 6, and in it the committee stated several reasons for its decision, including that the change would increase Liberty’s student-teacher contact time by 24 hours per class while still allowing enough room for extra opportunities, like electives and support classes for struggling students.

A similar committee was formed last year, but with representatives from all three comprehensive high schools. Ultimately, that committee said it could not come up with a common schedule recommendation.

Rasmussen came up with a recommendation of his own Nov. 28 — that Liberty switch to a six-period schedule. The option was what Issaquah and Skyline already use and did not require the hiring of extra teachers, unlike a seven-period schedule.

Anne Moore was the only board member who voted in support of the change to a six-period day.

“It is a challenge because I understand that parents and kids love it (the block schedule), but what are they missing?” she said. “I think the key comes back to some of the teachers that did talk about not being able to get through all the material in a given amount of time.”

One concern is that less class time means lower test scores. While Liberty’s average SAT score of 1634 over the past five years is above the national average — 1500 — it is below Issaquah’s and Skyline’s. Both those schools averaged 1719.

But others on the board wondered if chucking the eight-period day was the only way to raise test scores.

“It seems like the only variable that was ever considered was changing the schedule … rather than looking at what are some other things that we can do,” board member Marnie Maraldo said. “Is the only solution changing the schedule or is there a way to address some of these issues and stay in that eight-period schedule?”

Many of the board’s comments were also made by the Issaquah School District administration’s staff, Rasmussen said.

“It wasn’t one-sided,” he said. “Our recommendation will be to come back in January for recommendations for how we are going to work together to improve the six-period and eight-period day … this has been a valuable conversation, it’s been tough at times. So, let’s move on.”

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