Payson High School students flunked 144 fewer classes in 2010 than the year before, perhaps reflecting the impact of scheduling changes that reduced the number of classes most students take from seven to six.
Vice Principal Anna Van Zile recently reported the dramatic drop in the failure rate to the school board, but said the administration is still working to understand the reasons for the decline.
The figures showed the most improvement among the 214 freshmen, where the number of students failing a class dropped by 38 percent — and the number of classes they failed dropped an even more impressive 49 percent.
The failure rate didn’t drop nearly as much among sophomores and seniors. Despite the improvements, more than one in five students fails at least one class, according to the figures.
Van Zile said students are taking roughly 14 percent fewer classes this year, which could account for some of the decline in the total number of classes failed.
However, it wouldn’t necessarily account for the total number of students failing at least one class.
On the other hand, struggling students trying to keep up in just six classes may end up failing less than when confronted with the demands of seven different classes, she said
“The point is that we’re not comparing apples to apples,” in comparing the figures from 2009 to the 2010 figures.
She also credited the impact of the district’s “Gear Up” program, which identifies students in danger of failing and offers them extra help.
“I credit a lot of the improvement to the Gear Up program. This group of freshmen is part of that cohort that started with Gear Up in middle school. So you have a number of things to consider,” Van Zile concluded.
Among the freshmen in 2010, 39 students failed a total of 62 classes — which compares to the 63 students who failed 143 classes the year before — 18 percent of the freshmen flunked at least one class.
Curiously enough, sophomores didn’t improve nearly as much with an 8 percent decline in the number of students failing at least one class and a 13 percent decline in the number of classes failed. That decline in the number of classes failed closely matches the decline in the total number of classes. All told, 60 sophomores failed 130 classes in 2010, compared to 65 sophomores failing 150 classes the year before. A discouraging 28 percent of the 212 sophomores flunked at least one class.
By contrast, the failure rate dropped sharply again among juniors, with 31 percent fewer students failing 45 percent fewer classes.
In 2010, 41 juniors failed 65 classes compared to 60 students who failed 115 classes the year before.
That means one in four juniors flunked at least one class.
The improvement tapered off again among the seniors, where 14 percent fewer students failed 20 percent fewer classes from the year before.
All told, 37 seniors failed 65 classes in 2010, compared to the 43 who failed 81 classes in 2009.
That means one in five seniors flunked at least one class.
Van Zile said the administration will produce regular reports on the failure rate, which will be easier to interpret once the students all adjust to the new schedule, with a six-period day in which lunch doesn’t count as a period. Previously, students had an eight-period day, including lunch.
The change has resulted in fewer, longer classes — but a shorter lunch break.
“Kids would tell you that’s the biggest change, the shorter lunch break. But really it’s that they’re taking six classes instead of seven. We don’t know if the difference in the failure rate is entirely because we’ve gone from seven periods to six — but that’s certainly one of the big changes.”