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Popular reform draws mixed reviews

Block scheduling, where students study topics in intense spurts, may hurt performance on standardized tests.

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The concept of "block scheduling" – teaching in 90- rather than 45-minute periods – swept through US high schools in the 1990s. But today, opinions on its degree of success run the gamut from upbeat and positive to angry and condemnatory.

"It's all less hectic," says Carol Ladd, a German teacher at Marnacock High School in Readfield, Maine, where block scheduling has been in place for four years. "There's time to introduce material, then manipulate and reinforce it. Retention is better." Students and faculty alike embrace the idea at her school, she says.

But at Martin Luther King Jr. Senior High School in Philadelphia, not everyone shares that sentiment. "It's absolutely horrible," says Lynn Dixon, an English teacher at the school, where block scheduling has been in effect for four years. "The kids are wildly bored, the teachers are wildly bored, discipline is worse, and the kids are out of the loop for standardized tests."

Some faculty have actually quit in frustration over the system, says Ms. Dixon.

Now fresh research is roiling the block-scheduling debate. A study of Illinois and Iowa high schools done by Iowa State University and the administrators of the ACT assessment suggests that the system causes student scores on the ACT to decline.

It's not the first time block scheduling has been called into question. The idea of turning high school classes into longer, more intense study units like those a college student might experience has come under fire in recent years. One frustrated Wisconsin parent maintains a website that includes an exhaustive index of negative research findings on block scheduling (www.jefflindsay.com/Block.shtml).

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