School board member questions use of class time

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Shelby County School Board member Steve Martin questioned school officials about lost instructional time due to testing and extracurricular activities during the County Board of Education’s latest work session.

Martin indicated Shelby County Schools are designed around 175 days. However, he said, it is his perception &uot;that a lot of academics in our school are defeated in the name of ‘education.’&uot;

Martin asserted that students are learning life skills under the heading of education while failing exams.

He questioned anything that interferes with a student’s focus on the things he thought they should be focused on.

Martin pointed to testing – whether it takes up a full day or a few minutes – interrupting other students’ class days who are not taking tests.

&uot;I am not anti-testing. I’m anti-wasting time.&uot;

He spoke of graduation exam testing and asked, &uot;What did we do with those (other) students? Put (them) in a gym, not learning.&uot;

In addition, Martin asked, what happened to the 10 minutes or hour of instruction other students missed while testing was being conducted?

Counseling/testing supervisor Susan Seng said in one case, ninth graders were allowed to take practice tests.

High school coordinator Larry Headrick pointed out, however, that certain subjects like algebra couldn’t be taught to part of a class while others of the same class are being tested.

He explained that algebra lessons are built upon each other, and said one couldn’t teach new lessons to those left in the classroom. However, he said, &uot;We can do reinforcement.&uot;

Martin responded, &uot;We tell our teachers to do a lesson plan, and they can’t follow the plan.&uot;

School Board member Dr. David Nichols interjected that &uot;testing is instruction.&uot;

Martin said that in one school, students could not be given a test but could be put on a bus and sent to an activity day during testing time. Of that use of time, he noted, &uot;Our priorities are mixed up.&uot;

Martin listed more distractions from instruction such as getting rings, getting caps and gowns and reward parties.

He concluded that students were actually going to class about 125 days.

Assistant superintendent of instruction Charlotte Draper disagreed. She said that &uot;may be the case at one school, but not throughout the county.&uot;

Headrick also pointed out that many students couldn’t stay after school for activities or come before school.

But, he noted, that colleges say extracurricular activities show that students have time management skills, indicating schools like UCLA look for students with extracurricular activities on their resumes.

School Superintendent Evan Major attempted to put the discussion into perspective.

&uot;What I hear … you have a concern we are not getting the maximum out of our day … get maximum use of time for students – tested or not tested. Let’s take a very close look at everything we are doing as far as schedule and make maximum use of time,&uot; he said.

Martin pointed out that Shelby County Schools attend class 175 days. But he said, &uot;Prove to me we’re are getting more than 125 days of instruction.

&uot;The day somebody thinks their program is more important&uot; than what’s going on in the classroom, the &uot;principal needs to say leave the classroom alone.&uot;

At one point, the discussion became heated between Martin and Headrick. Major intervened.

&uot;We’re not on different teams here … We need to remain realistic at all levels. What can we do to make sure we are maximizing all of the day? I don’t believe 50 days a year are wasted,&uot; he said.

&uot;What can we do to make sure we’re doing everything to use every minute we have of those 175 days for our students to be motivated?&uot;

Headrick said he has addressed issues such as this one with teachers.

While Nichols raised the idea of busing students to one site for testing, Headrick spoke of problems with logistics.

Martin concluded that the school system could not afford to add 10 days of instruction, as Major had earlier pointed out to media that it would cost $500,000 a day to add any instructional days.

However, Martin said, the only thing the school system can do is to &uot;capture every minute we can.&uot;

And Major said, &uot;If there is a specific problem and it’s brought to my attention, I’m going to immediately address that specific problem.&uot;

Draper stressed the importance of development and experiences and said, &uot;I don’t think you can have one or the other.&uot;

A chart prepared by Headrick at the request of Martin showed time lost on extracurricular activities and assembly programs as eight-and-a-half hours at Calera, 11-and-a-half hours at Chelsea, just more than eight hours at Montevallo, just more than seven hours at Oak Mountain, just under seven hours at Pelham, almost 19-and-a-half hours at Shelby County High, six hours at Thompson and five hours at Vincent.

Activities included pep rallies, club schedules, assemblies, activity schedule and adviser time.

Under the heading of regular schedule, classes in Calera were 55 minutes each; classes at Chelsea were 55 minutes each; classes at Montevallo were 52 minutes each; classes at Oak Mountain, 52 minutes each; classes at Pelham, 50 minutes each; classes at Shelby County, 90 minutes each (block schedule); classes at Thompson, 50 minutes each; and classes at Vincent, 51 minutes each