Instead of adding time for extra academic help to the end or beginning of the school day, or taking students out of one class to catch up in another, Shelby County Schools is using a new remediation approach at its high schools.

Based on a successful pilot program last year, Chief Academic Officer Heidi Ramirez has moved ahead full throttle this school year to build remediation time into the existing school day so that every student gets needed support.

Over the summer, district principals picked a class schedule that works best for their school after all high schools explored various strategies last year. The idea was to provide time for extra academic help for struggling students or extra preparation for ACT, advanced placement or standardized state tests.

Whitehaven High School piloted adding an “eighth-period” to its block schedule, splitting off students into remedial or enrichment classes depending on their needs. The change provided remediation time for students during the last hour and a half of the day a couple of times per week.

A few other high schools tried a shorter remediation period during a seven-class day schedule.

This year, about 90 percent of the district’s high schools are using the “eighth-period” model such as the one piloted by Whitehaven.

“That eighth-period has been a real jewel for us,” said Whitehaven principal Vincent Hunter.

Last year, one of the biggest impacts was on Whitehaven’s students in ninth grade, considered a pivotal year in the transition to high school. The percentage of students who moved on to 10th grade was almost 96 percent, compared to about 91 percent the previous year. And the student body’s average ACT score went up about a point in writing, reading and science.

Other Shelby County high schools saw even more success. Craigmont, Westwood and Douglass watched students performing in the bottom 5 percent move 10 to 15 percentage points higher, Ramirez said.

District leaders introduced the repurposed class time after observing there wasn’t enough time during the regular school day for struggling students to catch up without hurting their academics elsewhere. Before, a student who was pulled from class to work on other skills fell behind elsewhere.

“Yes, they got support, but they didn’t get access to the grade-level work,” Ramirez said.

Daily intervention and remediation are foundational to Shelby County Schools’ heralded Innovation Zone, tasked with turning around Memphis schools in the state’s bottom 5 percent of schools. All iZone schools have an extra hour tacked on the day, but it’s the program’s most expensive component. For non-iZone schools, the next best remediation approach is to rearrange, not elongate, the school day, according to Hunter.

Vincent Hunter, principal of Whitehaven High School
PHOTO: Shelby County Schools
Vincent Hunter, principal of Whitehaven High School

Teachers have responded positively to having dedicated class time for remediation and test prep.

“They felt like (students) were better prepared because they had more time to prepare the kids. … It makes a huge difference for time management,” Hunter said.

Beyond remediation, students who need help with test prep have benefited.

Clementhia Poole prepares students to take the ACT exam and uses discussion and writing about topics that naturally interest her students to bolster their essay writing skills. “It keeps them writing,” Poole said.

Students and parents initially weren’t thrilled with the new schedule because it was new, Hunter said, but that changed during the pilot year.

“Eighth period is more relaxed,” said recent Whitehaven graduate Joshua Gooch of his class schedule last year.

But not less rigorous, according to teachers. For test prep, content on topics of interest leads to better discussion and allows students to hone their presentation skills.

“It provides us with the opportunity to focus on the thought process and how we should write,” said Darriell Smith, who graduated in May with honors.