Station Rotation and AB Scheduling: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

Principal Jon Horton of the intermediate building and the middle school has moved both buildings to a hybrid teaching style; he has also moved the middle school to an AB style schedule as of the 2016-2017 school year.

AB scheduling works like this; students have four 80 minute classes every day as well as a 45 minute intervention period everyday. Each day they have two core classes (Social Studies, English Language Arts, Math, etc)  and two special classes (Languages, Art, Music, FACS, Gym, etc). The next day they have the other two classes and two different specials.

An AB style schedule has its positives, just like anything else. It allows for students to have two days to complete homework; students do not have to carry all of their books everyday; and the 80 minute classes allow for teachers to go more in-depth with discussions.

All of that being said, AB scheduling has some massive drawbacks to it. Horton discussed the fact that core teachers actually lose a decent amount of teaching time because of the way that the AB schedule is designed. While I was unable to attain an exact figure, from a teacher source, it is estimated that around 14 days of classroom instruction is lost.

When faced with the question of whether a loss in time was acceptable, Horton stated that the loss in time shouldn’t matter as long as teachers use the time they have in an effective manner.

Another con to AB scheduling is the fact that students have literal 48 hour gaps between core classes. This kind of space allows for students to forget what information is discussed. This is especially problematic for classes that fall on a Thursday; those classes will not meet again until Monday, a three day gap every weekend.

One should also consider the loss of time for a student who is absent (even if only for one day); again students are looking at at least a three day gap in learning. What if the student was absent on Thursday?

The third, and most horrendous problem about an AB schedule is that 80 minutes is arguably too long for students to maintain attention. While the evidence of this is hardly quantifiable, the lack of attention by students has caused substitute Wayne Wolff to stop subbing at the seven/eight building: “I don’t like it because 80 minutes is too long for kids to sit in one subject, they get too antsy. I stopped subbing at that building because of it.”

Aside from the AB schedule, the middle and intermediate buildings are also functioning with Hybrid teaching.  Horton asked me to refer to hybrid teaching as station rotation in an attempt to combat the negative stigma that hybrid teaching has picked up by staff and students; so throughout the rest of the article it will be referred to as station rotation.

Station rotation functions in three positions; independent, collaborative, and direct. Students work on things by themselves at the independent station, often on the Chromebook. Kids work on projects in groups of three or four at the collaborative station. Finally, the teacher will work with students at the direct station, giving the students that are in the station their whole, undivided attention.

This teaching style certainly has it’s benefits. The teacher can focus solely on the kids that are in front of him or her.

The creators of station rotation recommend that when using station rotation that students be grouped by ability, for example; you can have all of the advanced students start at independent, the mid-level students start at collaborative, and the students who need help would start at the direct station. This could be beneficial because it allows students to advance without having to slow down or speed up to their peers.

That being said, station rotation’s greatest strengths are also some of its greatest weaknesses. Teachers grouping students by ability can be beneficial in some situations no doubt, but to just segregate students into student groups of the same mental ability at all times works against the goal of helping them.

One of the best ways for a student to prove mastery of a subject is to have the ability to teach it to another student. By having them separated by ability, it removes chances for this to happen; so, while one part of the classroom may understand the topic, if no one in the current group understands the topic, the student will have to wait until he or she reaches the direct station before they have a chance to comprehend what they are doing.

Since the teacher is focused on who is sitting in front of them, he or she may be challenged to keep the other twenty kids in the classroom (whom are supposed to be working outside of their direct discretion) on task.

There is also the concern of determining whether or not teachers and students enjoy using this type of teaching method in the classroom; for if they don’t, it’s destined to be ineffective. When I asked Horton if he found that students and staff liked the combination, he told me that he was thoroughly confident that the students enjoyed it.

That being said, the data that I collected definitively says otherwise.

I visited freshman majority classrooms during the Power45 period and asking the students two questions: Who enjoyed station rotation and who enjoyed AB scheduling.

Of the 76 freshman polled, only one student voted that they liked the station/rotation method. As for AB scheduling, again, one student reported liking this schedule. I should note, the two students that liked the station/rotation and AB scheduling were different students.

For AB scheduling, students simply stated that 80 minute classes were far too long to be comfortable, and that it was difficult to remain focused.

A large issue with the duo is that administration implemented it top down via mandate instead of consulting the staff and determining if it is something they would like to pursue. Instead, Horton told them that they would use station rotation in combination with the new AB schedule, and it was so.

As for the staff at the building, I made multiple attempts to gather poll data from the middle school teachers. I was denied access on every attempt by Horton.

I have personally spoken to many teachers who are vehemently opposed to the implementation of this duo, yet they can’t publicly voice their opinion because they fear there will be recourse taken against them. In my opinion, it is saddening that the staff at the middle school fear criticizing their leader.  It is even sadder that he is unwilling to allow those criticisms to come to light.

That being said, interestingly enough, during my interview with Horton, he told me that the staff were at about 50-50 for liking the duo, but unless they had an overwhelming majority, he was not going to revert to a normal classroom setting.

In a September interview about Superintendent Hughes’ plan for the district, he said: “Schools will look different ten years from now, and it’s due to personalized learning.”

Hughes has been adamantly in support of the duo, which is interesting, seeing as how when I interviewed Hughes in September on his goals for the district, one of his largest ones was personalizing education.

It appears to me as if station rotation does the exact opposite of this. It forces every teacher to teach the same way; it requires every student to learn the same way; and it severely limits teacher-student interaction. This cuts down any chances of individualization before it has a chance to germinate. It turns both the teacher and the students into robots.

When asked about the effectiveness of AB schedule and station rotation, School Board President Carrie Traeger said that station rotation is like an instrumentalist practicing his or her scales; it should be used to develop strong teaching foundations.

When questioned of community feedback, Traeger said: “I’ve heard more negative feedback from parents and students of seventh and eighth graders than I have positive, but the data has yet to support anything yet.”

However, there is some data available through Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA). In the 2015-2016 year, of the math students in the middle school, 33.5% of students were proficient or advanced according to PSSA standards. In the 2016-2017 PSSAs (the first year of PSSA data after implementation of the duo in the 2016-2017 year), of the math students in the middle school, 28.9% were proficient or advanced. That is a 4.6% drop in proficiency.

In the sake of fairness, scores at the middle school dropped between from the 2015 PSSAs to the 2016 PSSAs. However, from 2015 to 2016 the English Language Arts scores fell from 70.9% proficient or advanced to 64.7% proficient or advanced; a 6.2% drop.

Then from the 2016 PSSAs to the 2017 PSSAs, the scores fell to 53.8%, which was a 10.9% drop. This means that the year this program was implemented, we not only continued to fall, we fell even at a higher rate; 4.7% faster to be exact.

All of the PSSA data from the intermediate school and the middle school can be accessed on the google sheet at the bottom of the page, or here.

In my opinion, the largest issue with this entire situation is how little the public and teachers were involved in the decision process–a decision process that consists of catering to the need to increased test scores, no matter the cost. The students have truly become nothing more than test scores. A majority of them hate this program, but their opinion has been cast into the waste basket because this duo is supposed to make their test scores better.

I strongly urge that individuals who feel passionate about this plan that has been enacted reach out to Hughes or Horton or the School Board with their opinion, either positive or negative. The next School Board meeting is November 16 at 6:30 p.m. in the administration building.

PSSA Data 2015, 2016, and 2017