Block Scheduling

What is the 4x4 hybrid block schedule?

In a 4x4 hybrid block schedule, there are four 90-minute instructional blocks each day. Most classes meet daily for a semester. At the end of each semester, students earn a full credit for each course that meets daily. Classes that are .5 credit or run for only one semester on the current traditional schedule will now run on consecutive days for one quarter (approximately ten weeks), or half of either the fall or spring semester.

In the SPS hybrid schedule, some courses will meet on alternating days throughout the school year on what is known as an A/B schedule. Classes that will run year round meet the following criteria*:

  • Courses that require a test or portfolio at completion (e.g., IB, AP)
  • Courses that are co-enrolled with AP/IB (e.g., UConn ECE)
  • Courses that result in a periodic publication (e.g., Yearbook, Journalism)
  • Courses that are performance-based (e.g., Band, Choir, JROTC)
  • Courses that are governed by outside partners (e.g., AgSci, PLTW)
  • Courses that require academic support for successful intervention for some students (e.g., Alg 1 paired with SPEF tutoring)
  • Courses to balance full year offerings (e.g., some PE & Health classes, some sections of 9th Grade Seminar, others TBD)

*This list continues to be updated with input from stakeholders.

What led to considering a change in the format of the high school schedule?

For over six years, SPS has involved stakeholders in research and discussion regarding a schedule change at our high schools. A new schedule must provide blocks of time for students that support active learning experiences. In addition, the schedule must provide personalization and equitable opportunities for success in whichever pathway a student chooses: 4 year college, 2 year college, career, or military. 

Additionally, CT passed new graduation requirements for the current junior class of 2023, requiring 25 credits (five more than the previously required 20) to graduate. Recognizing that change can be difficult, the new requirements necessitated increasing credit offerings for all students in order to create more opportunities for student achievement. 

Why is the 4x4 block hybrid schedule right for SPS?

For SPS high schools, the schedule will create a culture of:

  • maximizing student learning and experience by more effectively arranging time, resources, and people
  • providing teachers adequate time to collaborate and refine their practice (teachers will have at least 90 minutes per day for preparation for classes)
  • creating more equitable access to rigorous and rich coursework for all students
  • improving attendance, learning, and graduation rates (see research links below)
  • reducing disruptions and transition times during the school day, thus increasing time spent in the classroom
How does the 4x4 Block Hybrid Schedule benefit students directly?
  • Offers personalized and flexible schedules for students to meet their learning needs 
  • Address the social and emotional needs of many students who are feeling overwhelmed and stressed by current expectations and course loads
  • Increases the number of credits students can take each year, allowing students to take more electives so as to explore their interests and possible career options
  • Reduces the number of courses taken each semester, thus decreasing the amount of classes to prepare for each night as well as books and materials to manage
  • Creates a more manageable student load for teachers, so that they can provide  more individualized attention for their students and build relationships in the classroom
  • Structures longer class periods which give students more time to think and engage in active learning
  • Decreases student class load means that if they are absent, they have fewer courses requiring make-up work and fewer teachers to contact about their missed time
  • Allows students to accelerate learning by taking two years of a content area class in one school calendar year
  • Provides immediate intervention for students who need to recover credits within one school calendar year
What might a student’s schedule look like in the 4x4 hybrid block schedule?

In the 4x4 hybrid block, students can earn 8 credits during the school year as part of their normal schedule, which is one more credit per year than the current SHS/WHS schedule with 7 periods per day. Find sample student schedules here.

In the hybrid schedule, students can take between 4-8 classes per semester, depending on their individual needs and goals. By taking fewer courses each semester, students can choose to focus more intensely on a smaller number of subjects at one time. They can also balance their more challenging courses with courses they may find less difficult, so as to increase their ability to dedicate more time and effort where needed. And for students who are taking alternating A/B courses, such as band or an Advanced Placement course, they would still most likely take fewer than the current load of seven credits at a time, allowing them to reap some benefits of a reduced course load.

Is instructional time compromised in the 4x4 hybrid block schedule?

In a 4x4 hybrid block schedule, the amount of instructional time in a particular course is 8.5 hours less per year than the current 7 period day schedule. (SPS classes meet for 140 hours per year. The CT State Department of Education recommends 120 hours per year.) However, once it is factored in that the students will be taking one full additional course per year and when we allot for fully one half the transition time for each class (including settling in at the beginning of class, taking attendance, and packing up at the end of class), there will be no lost instructional time in the new schedule.

In this schedule, some students will increase the amount of instructional time per year in a core area, because they will take additional courses. For example, a student might take Spanish 2 during the first semester and Spanish 3 in the second semester and take an entirely different language the following year, eventually experiencing more World Language courses than they would have under the current schedule. Similarly, a student might take Geometry during the first semester and Algebra II during the second semester, eventually taking more math courses than they would have under the current schedule. Both of these examples allow students to accelerate their pathways in the content area without having to take two courses concurrently, such as taking Geometry and Algebra 2 all year at the same time.

How can students sustain attention for the extended period in the block schedule?

As has been done at AITE for almost two decades, longer block periods encourage teachers to use a variety of instructional methods and tools. Indeed, students are not expected to sit idly for ninety minutes, but rather engage in learning using different modalities for deeper understanding. Ideally, the period would be structured in a way to provide direct instruction on the content for the day and ample time for students to use that knowledge in meaningful ways, including collaborative work, learning centers, simulations, and independent learning. Teachers could take advantage of the group work time to meet with students either individually or in small groups to reinforce concepts as well as work on areas that need additional support. Teachers can also use authentic assessment tools to provide real time feedback to students to increase depth of knowledge and achievement. 

“Everything depends on what the teacher does in the classroom.” Robert Lynn Canday (as cited in Kenney, 2003, p. 4)

Will students lose continuity of instruction?

Research (see below for studies) shows that the loss in content retention that will occur under this schedule will not be significantly different from what students lose over summer. Additionally, it is suggested that it is not how much time students spend in school or in their classes per se, but how that time is spent. The 4x4 hybrid block schedule allows for students and teachers to maximize instructional time, which leads to deeper and more internalized learning. 

How does the 4x4 Hybrid Block Schedule support pathways and continuity across the district?

SPS is currently doing the exciting work of building a solid pathways program in all three high schools. The hybrid block schedule allows for the most flexibility in allowing our juniors and seniors to pursue credit bearing experiences, such as work-place learning, pre-apprenticeships, and internships. In addition, frontloading courses in the fall semester of senior year would allow a student to begin their post-secondary endeavors early.

How will the 4x4 Hybrid Block Schedule serve students in Special Education?

Students in special education benefit from a variety of learning activities and differentiation in the way content is presented. Block scheduling provides the environment to reap these instructional benefits through increased time for small group instruction, practice and reinforcement of skills introduced, and the delivery of specialized instruction related to IEP goals and objectives. Extended class time allows for reinforcement of lessons and content from general education classes as well as targeted work in support classes. In this schedule, teachers can “chunk” time, giving students more time to spend on each activity presented without the pressure of quickly moving to their next class. The 4x4 hybrid block schedule also reduces the amount of daily transitions as well as concerns with organizational skills for many students due to the lessened course load and decreased homework, assessments, and materials. 

How will the 4x4 Hybrid Block Schedule serve English Learners?

By decreasing the number of classes each semester for English Learners, beginner language learners will be immersed in their English as a Second Language courses. Bilingual and sheltered classes will continue to be available as needed. This will allow students to focus on English language development and gradually use this English in general education classes. English learners will benefit from the deeper connection with teachers and learning materials in the longer class periods.

Links for More Information
Related Studies on Block Scheduling

Stamford Public Schools remains committed to improving student learning outcomes and increasing college and career readiness for all graduates.

Over the past several decades, many studies have collected data on school reform efforts around the country, some of which include schools that use block scheduling. In the spirit of transparency and critical analysis, we have cited several studies and articles below, some of which support the practice of block scheduling while others question its overall effectiveness. As noted in one synthesis of evidence-based research, because block scheduling is not in itself "school reform" and rather “a vehicle to enact instructional, curricular, and organizational reform,” there is no reliable causal data regarding block scheduling to suggest notable negative impacts on student learning outcomes or college and career readiness.

SPS encourages all interested parties to review the studies and articles below.

Research on Best Practices for Learning
Professional Articles on Block Scheduling
Links to News Articles about High Schools Changing to Block Schedules