The four county high schools that still have six-period days soon may change their schedules to let students take more elective classes.
Oakland Mills, Hammond, Mount Hebron and Glenelg high schools are weighing those changes, some as early as next year, because of new state graduation requirements that leave students little room for electives.
"It's inevitable we're going to switch to something more than six periods," said David Bruzga, principal of Oakland Mills High School in Columbia. "We have a very intense, active committee studying the whole scenario."
Already, the county's other four high schools follow schedules that let their students take more than six subjects each year.
Two of them, Atholton and Howard, began four-period day schedules this fall, enabling students to take eight classes a year. The other two schools, Wilde Lake and Centennial, have for years followed schedules letting students take more than six classes a year.
The push for alternate schedules is a result of state graduation requirements that went into effect for the ninth-grade class that entered this year.
Those requirements mandate 21 credits for graduation, one more than in previous years. Students also must take an additional credit in science, as well as two credits of foreign language or advanced technology, among others.
As a result, students at schools with six-period schedules have the opportunity to take only three elective courses throughout their high school experience.
Alternate schedules give student more flexibility by restructuring the school day to allow time for additional classes.
At Howard High School, for example, students follow a college-type schedule, taking four classes for the first half of the year and a different four classes the second half of the year.
At Centennial, many students skip lunch to attend a seventh period. And at Wilde Lake, the schedule alternates classes from day to day, letting students take up to 12 credits a year.
Last week, about 50 school administrators, parents and others met with Daniel Jett, director of high schools, to discuss alternate schedules. A smaller number of teachers also met to discuss their concerns.
At Oakland Mills, Mr. Bruzga expects the school to have some kind of new schedule either next year or the following year.
"The biggest concern we have is the impact on student achievement," he said. Mr. Bruzga said he has yet to see conclusive data on whether the changes at other schools have affected academic achievement, for better or worse.
At Hammond High School, administrators are studying whether to change the current six-period schedule, though "there is not a dying desire here to change it," said Principal Marshall Peterson.
Parents and staff at his school have questioned the effect a different schedule might have on curriculum, class sizes, number of classes and student achievement. They also fear the school would have to sacrifice a teacher in an academic subject to free that teacher for a fine arts subject.
Mount Hebron High School is considering a variety of schedules, but administrators don't know if a decision will be made by next school year, according to Sylvia Pattillo, the principal.
"We would certainly like to offer [more than six classes] next year, but we don't know if we are in a position to do it," she said.
Even Centennial High School, which already offers students the chance to take a seventh period during lunchtime, is looking at alternatives, said Wren Cronin, a teacher on a team studying scheduling.
"Everyone is looking and thinking," she said.
Ms. Cronin was among the teachers who have discussed the scheduling issue with teachers from Atholton and Howard who have experience with alternate schedules.
Atholton and Howard teachers generally have liked the new schedules and the ability to vary instruction.
But they complain about increased class sizes and a shortage of teachers, since the same staff also is teaching electives.
Some also say their students are working harder than ever, while others said their students are under severe stress because of the schedule.