ASPEN – With the end of the 2013-14 academic year approaching, Aspen High School is finally rolling out its revamped class schedule for next year. This will require more math teachers, but exactly how many is not clear yet.
Following an October directive from Superintendent John Maloy, high school administrators and teachers worked for several months to restructure the schedule and provide more math instruction to students.
By requiring math classes every day of the week, and providing more overall minutes of math during the year, Maloy hopes to boost the high school’s test scores and, more importantly, give AHS graduates a solid footing in mathematics.
On Monday afternoon, AHS Principal Kim Martin — the person charged with creating the new schedule — told the Aspen Board of Education that she was nearly done with the complex and thorny job of scheduling more math classes every week.
With a finite number of instructional hours in each day and week, adding math time means reducing time for other classes.
Board President Sheila Wills congratulated Martin on completing a controversial and difficult task. The board has supported Maloy’s reasoning on the math-oriented directive, but over the course of the process numerous questions arose from parents, teachers and students about the ripple effect of the change.
“I know it’s been difficult and I know you’ve received all kinds of conflicting feedback,” Wills told Martin.
In the end, Martin chose a schedule that mirrors the existing AHS schedule of 90-minute periods, but splits some 90-minute slots into two 45-minute ones. This resulted in new time slots for math every other day, but with minimal disruption to the rest of the schedule.
When asked for their recommendations on how to carve out the additional math time, Martin said, most teachers preferred the so-called “90-45” option.
“I think it’s because teachers are comfortable with that schedule, and many departments are already familiar with teaching in those 90-minute blocks,” Martin said.
Beginning in 2014-15, AHS students will have math every day, with classes alternating between 90- and 45-minute lengths. The school will move from an average 450 minutes of math instruction every two weeks to an average 675 minutes.
“We’ll have a 50 percent increase in math minutes,” Martin said. “The rest of the departments will still have 90 minutes every other day. Only the math department will have 45 minutes every other day.”
Maloy directed Martin to create the new schedule after observing that AHS students’ math test scores were dropping as they moved through high school.
Though still exceeding statewide averages, Maloy said in a letter to the school community, Aspen students were falling behind their peers from so-called “match schools” in demographically similar communities.
“It is evident that our students deserve math every day and additional math time over the course of the year in order to compete on a national and international stage,” he wrote.
Technical glitches have emerged already with PowerSchool, the district’s scheduling software, and administrators expect that additional tweaks and adjustments will be needed. But Martin thinks the bulk of the hard work is done.
“I’d say we’re 80 percent of the way there,” she told Aspen Journalism. “Now we just need to follow the typical scheduling process we go through as kids sign up for classes.”
The additional math time will complicate some things for students. Down the road, Maloy and Martin may ask board members to add some flexibility to the school’s graduation requirements.
For example, Martin wrote to board members, “instead of requiring .50 units of creative arts, .50 credits of business and 6.25 credits of electives, we could require 1.0 credits of “applied and creative arts,” which would allow students to take business, art or music to meet the requirement.”
These decisions were postponed to a later date, when administrators promised to return with more information and recommendations for board members to consider. The new schedule also may have implications for students in the International Baccalaureate Diploma program, who will experience a squeeze on their available instructional time.
“This is a work in progress,” Wills said. “We’ve made the major changes, and we see a few more coming down the pike next year. I do think we’re doing the right thing for our kids.”
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism’s Education Desk and The Aspen Times are collaborating on coverage of local education. The Times ran this story on Thursday, April 24, 2014.