Trimesters, credits, and graduation, oh my!

Highline high schools consider trimester plan

By Lindsay Peyton

Highline Public Schools is considering making a change – to a trimester schedule for high schools in the fall of 2018.

The possible switch -- from a six-period semester schedule to five-period trimesters -- has stirred up concern in parents in the district, who point to rising costs and educational gaps that could accompany the change.

Catherine Carbone Rogers, chief communications officer for the district, explained that discussions about the trimester schedule come on the heels of new graduation requirements issued by the state of Washington.

The state mandated an increase in the minimum number of credits – from 20 to 24 – for seniors to receive their diplomas starting in 2021. The new requirements also increase the number of mandatory credits in world language, science and the arts.

“If we stay with the current six-period day, students will have fewer opportunities for electives (a reduction from seven to four electives) and no opportunity to make up for a failed credit in four years,” Carbone Rogers said.

She added that Highline is one of many districts researching options that would allow students to meet the new state requirements, while still giving them opportunities for enrichment.

The district also wants to provide students who have failed a class a chance to retake the course.

“This supports high achieving students who want more choice of coursework as well as students who are at risk of not graduating on time,” Carbone Rogers said.
 
She said the district’s College and Career Ready Committee is considering a number of schedule options.

The superintendent will review all the feedback and make a decision on the schedule by the end of this month.

“As with any change, there are trade-offs that must be considered,” Carbone Rogers said.
 
For example, if the district decides to lengthen class periods, teachers will have to be trained on how to make the best use of the full period, Carbone Rogers said.

If the district instead moves to a schedule with fewer class periods per day, then certain courses may be scheduled before or after the school day.

“If we choose the trimester system, we will need to decide which classes will be full-year and which will be two or one trimester,” she said.

Carbone Rogers explained that in the trimester system, there could be longer gaps between courses that are sequential. For example, a student could have math in the first and second trimester of the year and then no math during the third trimester.

“In this case, we may decide that some math courses should be spread over three trimesters to prevent this from happening,” she said. “This could apply to other courses, as well, such as International Baccalaureate or Advanced Placement courses.”

Carbone Rogers added that any increase in credit-earning opportunities will come with a cost. For example, the district might have to hire more teachers.

She said the district would have to find a sustainable way to fund additional staffing and training.

Still, Carbone Rogers said the trimester semester would provide students with new opportunities.

“Students would have options to explore more electives, go deeper into subjects they are passionate about, take additional years of world language or make up credits for classes they have failed,” she said.

The district received input from families about the proposed changes during the past year – hosting informational and input sessions, as well as sending out surveys for feedback.

Betsy Akina, one Highline parent who attended the sessions, has been vocal about her concerns. She has two sons enrolled in the district schools.

“If I were in charge, I would look at what other successful schools have done,” she said. “And if you look at successful school districts, they did not go to a trimester schedule.”

Akina said at first, she had no opinion about the switch to trimesters. Then, she started to research the idea.

“My research has led me to believe that it’s not a good system,” she said.

Akina even called a principal -- Joe Esper at Traverse City West High School Principal in Michigan -- who had overseen the switch to trimesters on his campus.

“It was supposed to save money, but it cost money,” she said. “He said it actually hurt the kids they were trying to help.”

She said Esper told her that teachers had to pare courses down so they were only teaching the essentials.

“He said that they had more kids fail,” Akina said.

Traverse High is now getting rid of the trimester system completely.

Akina believes Highline should avoid making the change in the first place – and she hopes other parents will share their concerns with the district.

“A lot of people feel like there’s no point, because they’re going to do whatever they want anyway,” she said. “I feel like if I don’t say anything, nothing will change. We’ll be stuck. The least I can do is speak up.”

For more information, visit www.highlineschools.org/core24.  Parents may also email the superintendent at susan.enfield@highlineschools.org.

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