• School Start Times & Grade Weighting Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

    Questions are added on a regular basis

    School Start Times

    Grade Weighting

    General

    School Start Times

    Is there a particular time period in the day when elementary kids feel sleepy and are not at their optimal attentiveness?

    One of the members on the November 9 panel noted that it would not be recommended to start school before 7:30 a.m. for elementary students.

    By pushing back the high school start time, do students go to bed even later because they still have to spend the same amount of time after school at practice, doing homework, etc.? Essentially, if high school starts at 8:00 a.m., will kids be going to bed at 1:00 a.m. because their activities run later?

    The November 9 panel representatives pointed to research that shows this has not been the case in school districts that have implemented later start times for high school students.

    If the medical community recommends a start time of 8:30 a.m. for adolescents, what is the benefit of changing to any start time earlier than that?

    This is something the District wrestled with as the potential recommendations were developed. While an 8:30 a.m. start time is ideal according to the research, an 8:00 or 8:15 a.m. start is more closely aligned than the current school start time of 7:25 a.m.

    Is the school district going to provide school-funded after-school care for elementary students if they finish school around 2:15 p.m.?

    Should one of the final recommendations include an elementary student day that ends at 2:15 p.m., significant additional research, including additional opportunities for feedback from parents regarding after-school care, would need to be undertaken. The District does not currently offer free before or after school programs.

    It can be very dark at 7:00 a.m. Is it safe for 5-year-olds to be waiting in the dark for the bus? Are the Townships/Boroughs going to put more street lights in?

    Darkness at the bus stop is a concern for children of all ages, and safety will remain a priority for the North Allegheny School District. Generally speaking, younger elementary children are accompanied to the bus stop by a parent, while middle and high schoolers tend to wait alone. Parents can take turns being a “bus parent” at the stop, and districts are able to provide crossing guards at dangerous intersections. Whether it is dark in the morning depends on the time of year, bus pick up schedules, and whether there are any alternatives. The issue of safety in waiting for the bus for students as young as 5 may be an issue whether it is dark or light out. Many parents already drop kids off at school in NA. Some school districts have arranged before school programs or have parents volunteer to wait at the bus stop with kids. Also, only one of the five potential plans had elementary kids starting at 7:45 a.m.; the others were later.

    According to one of the November 9 public forum panelists, some recent evidence supports the notion that shifting elementary schools earlier to accommodate later school start times for middle or high school students does not harm sleep of the younger students. A 2015 study (Sleep Health, Appleman E et al, June 2015) found that changing elementary school to an earlier time did not result in elementary children getting less sleep, as some had feared. A University of Minnesota publication (Phi Delta Kappan, Kubow P et al, 1999) studied 14 elementary schools that had changed their starting times, and they found that 9:40 a.m. was too late (children were already tired out), 8:40 a.m. was positive, and 7:40 a.m. was also positive, especially for students with ADHD. In one study of elementary schools in Kentucky, which did not assess sleep directly (Keller et al., 2015, Journal of Educational Psychology), associations between lower school performance and earlier elementary school start times were found in some but not all counties (which seemed to depend on the number of students receiving free or reduced-cost lunches).

    How is student sports not a significant barrier? With the time change students will be missing more school and missing school is horrible with the current pace of most classes. With how much sports are pushed by school, I'd like more of an explanation to this problem.

    The District currently schedules the start time for all home contests. Some of those occur in the afternoon, while others occur in the evening. If a tennis match currently begins at 3:30 p.m., the District could move those start times back. The Athletic Director also believes that many other schools would accommodate our requests for later start times when those matches are hosted by their school.

    Is extending the school year an option? For parents who work, I imagine that would be a positive thing.

    The District is not currently exploring the extension of the school year beyond the current 184 student days. This may be a topic for consideration in future years.

    Is the problem of needing to start later for science reasons or is it a matter of being over scheduled or a combination of both? What is the science or research behind the stress of being over scheduled teens and children?

    One of the November 9 public forum panelists shared that school times for middle and high school students should start later because of normative changes in adolescent biology. These include a delaying circadian rhythm (another name for our biological clock), as evidenced by melatonin onset becoming later, along with a decrease in the drive for sleep, as evidenced by decreasing slow wave sleep during the night.

    However, stress due to overscheduling can also disrupt sleep, making things worse. There’s a two-way street in that both sleep and stress can have an impact on the other. For example, according to the November 9 panelists, it’s known that high levels of stress disrupt sleep (such as making it difficult to fall asleep at night or resulting in poor sleep quality). This in turn can make it more difficult to handle stressors the following day. This can result in a vicious cycle. The November 9 panelists shared that adolescents who get a sufficient amount of sleep are likely to better handle stressors, which is shown in things like lower rates of depression in youth who are well rested. Over-scheduling can add stress, but outside-of-school activities can also help students manage stress. In the end, extracurricular choices are just that—choices that families make.

    Are you familiar with and could you provide an opinion on the study by doctors Feinberg & Campbell of the UC Davis Sleep Lab that concludes, “At present, there is simply insufficient evidence to support the view that later school start times would be more helpful than other interventions. At a minimum, our knowledge of adolescent sleep informs us that there is insufficient scientific evidence to justify the bed durations and school schedules currently recommended by the AAP.”

    According to one of the November 9 public forum panelists, this quote comes from a column Drs. Ian Campbell and Irwin Feinberg wrote in the Davis Enterprise, a newspaper published in Davis, CA. In this article, they cite evidence from their own longitudinal study showing a steep decrease in slow wave sleep across adolescence as supporting the above quoted claims. The panelists believe their studies are well done; however, what is in dispute is how to interpret their findings. The forum panelists believe the decline in slow wave sleep across adolescents, elegantly documented by Campbell and Feinberg, is evidence that homeostatic pressure to fall asleep at night lessens across adolescent development, which is one of the factors that makes it more difficult for teens to fall asleep early in the evening. Another biological shift is the delaying biological clock (i.e., delayed melatonin onset) that also results in later bedtimes. These biological changes are combined with social and environmental factors, such as academic demands, socializing/texting, and school start times, that together lead to many youth getting too little sleep, and oversleeping on the weekends to catch up on sleep. And, as outlined briefly below, lower amounts of sleep are associated with higher amounts of negative consequences.

    Several other claims in this article have been disputed, such as a lack of evidence that sleep durations will (or will not) return to their previous levels after changing school start times later. However, follow-up studies in the Minneapolis school district have shown gains in sleep duration were sustained over the course of years. This argues against the notion that increases in sleep duration may only be temporary if sleep times drift later after later school start times are implemented. The article also claims there are no “dose-response data that justify this recommendation.” It is true that well-controlled experimental studies that manipulate school start times have not been conducted (such as randomly assigning school start times across schools; testing multiple start times within the same district, etc.), and would be difficult to do. There are, however, many studies that do show that youth with shorter amounts of sleep suffer from more negative consequences in a dose-dependent relationship, including lower grades, depression and suicidal thoughts, and substance use.

    While it is indeed unclear exactly how much sleep is necessary, there are large individual differences in sleep need. There are now many studies that show that the risk for negative consequences, such as depression and substance use, gets larger for each hour less of sleep obtained by high school students. For example, data from Fairfax County, Virgina, one of the largest school districts in the country (Winsler et al., 2015. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25178930):

    chart of hopelessness thoughts and suicide thoughts and attempts by reported number of hours of sleep

    Hopelessness and suicide by reported number of hours of sleep. Note: Each hour less of sleep is associated with a significant increase in odds of the outcome, p’s < .001

    chart of substance use by hours of sleep

    Substance use by hours of sleep. Note: Each hour less of sleep is associated with a significant increase in odds of the outcome, p’s < .001

    How will a change in start times affect the students who participate in work release programs?

    If the high school start day is moved back, students in a work release program would need to work with their employer to adjust their work hours.

    Given the AAP recommendation that children 6 to 12 years of age should sleep nine to 12 hours per 24 hours on a regular basis to promote optimal health, doesn't flipping the high school and elementary start times just transfer the potential health risks to younger students?

    According to the panel representatives, biologically, younger children are able to go to bed earlier than students in high school and middle school. One of the representatives suggested that it would not be appropriate to start elementary school students before 7:30 a.m.

    Has the school district taken into account for the small businesses (who pay the heavy school taxes) that heavily rely on school students to be out of school early?

    Panel representatives shared that businesses and other community organizations will adapt to these changes when given enough time to prepare. This is one of the reasons why the District will consider any proposed changes in January 2018.

    How exactly will the later start time impact kids in sports? Some sports practices, like football, run until close to 6:00 p.m. With the later start time will practice run till close to 7:00?

    If start times are changed, the District will work with the Athletic Department in determining the necessary times for games, practices, etc.

    Have you considered later start times, holding the same three bus runs and in turn extending the school year longer into the summer to meet the state required 900/990 hours?

    This is not something we are currently considering; however it could be a discussion point in the future.

    As a mom to three teens, I send my teens to bed and take electronics before I go to bed. If they are waking up later, they will be going to bed later. Is it wise to encourage kids to be up later at night? I can't see anything good coming from encouraging teens to stay up later?

    Establishing consistent bedtimes and restrictions on electronics are good practices for families. Changing the start times for school does not encourage staying up later or altering successful routines that are already in place.

    How about educating parents on unplugging kids and teaching them how to budget their time and get to sleep at a reasonable hour?

    The District is currently working on sharing appropriate sleep hygiene practices with parents. This is helpful information for students and parents, regardless of whether or not the District adjusts school times.

    If we push back high school start times, can we guarantee that the current after school activities such as sports, band, debate, etc. will remain after school activities?

    Currently, there are some clubs and activities, and even sports teams (i.e., swimming and diving) that practice before school. We would not want current after-school activities to shift to the morning if school start times were moved back for middle and high school students.

    If NA delays school start times, will there be scientific assessments of sleep, academic performance, depression, obesity, drug use, etc before and after to understand whether our kids are benefiting?

    Yes, if school start times were adjusted, we would want to measure these effects over time.

    Why are we not polling the K-4 sector for start times? Avoiding this subject population slants results, but ultimately these children are affected the most with this long term decision.

    K-4 parents are being surveyed, however Hanover research did not feel it was age-appropriate for students in these grades to complete the survey.

    My child hands me her phone every night when she goes to bed. There are plenty of texts, Instagram posts and Snapchats sent to her at 1, 2, 3, 4:00 in the morning. What is being done to emphasize to the kids that they need to reduce their screen time and the importance of sleep?

    The District will need to continue to educate students on these two important issues. We encourage all parents to establish nightly routines where students “unplug” at a certain time and avoid looking at electronic devices until the morning.

    Is there an option to push start times back but not *quite* as much? Ex. HS 8am, MS 8:40, ES 9:15?

    The District will explore all potential options following the feedback that is received through the electronic survey. This particular model would be challenging given that the end times for middle school and elementary school students would be too close together to complete the middle school bus runs in a timely fashion. The current elementary day is 6 hours and 30 minutes and the middle school day is 6 hours and 48 minutes.

    Per the NASD Proposed Final Budget 2017-18, Student Transportation costs are listed as $6,804,373 - why is the cost to condense the bus run so large?

    The District does not currently have the capacity to transport all students in two bus runs without extending the length of bus rides. The District will need to add additional bus runs to accomplish this, and the net cost to do so is approximately $1 million.

    Are there concerns about middle and high school students riding the bus together? If the buses stop at 3 schools will the routes take longer than current routes?

    Some of our neighboring school districts currently transport high school and middle school students together. If the District moves in this direction, we will be sure to learn from them regarding how we can best transport students from a wide variety of grade levels. Also, the District is not supportive of transportation models that lengthen the average bus rides for students.

    Was an 8:00 (HS), 8:30 (MS), 9:00 (E) schedule ruled out, and if so, why?

    There needs to be enough time between both the start and end times for each level in order to accommodate bus transportation. In addition, the student day for elementary students is shorter than it is for secondary students. This specific time structure would not be feasible without greatly increasing the number of bus runs.

    Grade Weighting

    Do you think the removal of weighted GPA will affect humanities courses such as AP Human Geography or AP English more or math and science classes such as AP Physics 1 & 2? Would the new AP Computer Science Principles class be negatively affected because of its novelty?

    Colleges continue to share that they look at all of the courses a student takes in relation to the courses that are available at that particular school. As noted by one of the college admissions representatives at the November 9 forum, the specific program a student is considering at a given college or university is important. For instance, if you are interested in applying to a science program, Honors or AP science and math courses in high school are something they would like to see. However, it may not be necessary to take a large number of Honors and AP courses in other areas.

    This is why increased career awareness and college and career readiness are important. If students have a better sense of what they may want to do after North Allegheny, then they can gear their coursework accordingly.

    This could potentially affect enrollment in some of the courses the District currently offers.

    My son aspires to be admitted into the most prestigious college, Harvard. Will the possible changes concerning GPA weight impact his chances of being accepted?

    According to the college representatives at the November 9 forum, the elimination of weighted grades would not affect his chances of being accepted. Tier 1 schools, such as Harvard, would still want to see that the student has availed him or herself of the most rigorous courses available to them, particularly in the areas of study the student plans to pursue.

    How can stress be reduced from the AP Course “AP Computer Science Principles”?

    As we move through this process, we will be investigating the appropriate workload for all courses. The challenge for each student is understanding how a student’s total course load is impacted by the types of courses he or she selects. If a student’s courses are all AP and Honors, the workload will be much heavier than a student who chooses to take some AP and Honors courses. Students and parents are able to watch presentations prepared by the Department Chairpersons for each Honors and AP Course. These presentations provide an overview into the curriculum and workload to provide insight to students during the scheduling process. These videos are available on the NAI and NASH websites.

    The student also needs to factor in other after school activities such as athletics, clubs and organizations, part-time jobs, etc. This balance is different for each student and needs to be carefully considered as students schedule courses for the following year.

    Why will removing grade weights help reduce student stress? I am hearing the colleges on the panel are looking for students to take the AP classes, and as a student I will continue to take the AP classes to get into to the colleges that I want and earn merit scholarships.

    The District is exploring possible adjustments to weighted grades as this is a theme that emerged during student interviews last school year when students were asked to articulate what was causing them stress. Many students noted how focused they are on obtaining the highest GPA possible, which meant maximizing the number of AP and Honors courses they could take. This chase toward a higher GPA encouraged grade and course acceleration, and using the waiver process to waive into courses that may not always be appropriate for that student. It also discouraged students from taking non-weighted courses even when those courses might be in line with their future career aspirations.

    I feel that as a student, I am more stressed out by the workload more than the actual content of the course. Is there a way that homework can be attacked rather than changing the courses? I feel as though the Board has the right idea but is not going at it the right way.

    Certain courses, such as AP courses, have a significant amount of homework due to the content that must be covered in order for students to be successful on the AP exam. North Allegheny teachers using North Allegheny curriculum have a proven track record of preparing students to score at the highest levels on these tests. It may not be practical to reduce the work in certain courses as this may not adequately prepare students. However, the District is engaging in a discussion with all faculty about the need to ensure that homework is appropriate for the course/level, well designed, and necessary. Students and families may visit the College Board website to explore the curriculum for each AP course. This specificity may assist a student with more information related to the course and ultimately his/her interest in content requirements.

    Can the college representatives speak about how unweighting GPA could limit our students' access to opportunities at their schools? I.e. Scholarships, honors college, etc.

    This is a continued concern that will be addressed in any grade weighting policy change. It also quite valuable for students to speak directly to colleges and universities of interest in order to understand expectations during the admissions process, as each collegiate major may have different expectations.

    If weighting is removed, how are the students who take the honors and AP classes given credit for taking more rigorous classes?

    The college representatives present at the November 9 forum stressed the need for students to take rigorous courses as part of admission, especially admission into highly selective colleges. However, ensuring that students receive ample support in making smart choices about taking rigorous courses that align to their college and career choices continues to be a focus of the District. Identifying the best way to ensure that students are rewarded for taking rigorous courses while also ensuring students are taking courses that are the best “fit” for their future college and career choices will be a focus of any change to policies related to grade weighting.

    Based on college admissions, would you say it’s better for a student to take a regular academic course and get a higher grade or to take the honors/AP course with a potentially lower grade?

    This is a great instance of “it depends” in college admissions. For example, some colleges are pretty transparent when they tell students that, given the rigor of our courses, that their most successful students have an A in the most demanding courses related to what they want to study in college as possible. That said, there are countless examples of colleges where the most demanding curriculum is not necessarily required.

    How will the existing weighted grade be adjusted for a student who will be in senior year next year (2018-2019)?

    If the District does alter grade weighting practices, the implementation of such a change must be carefully explored. Options could range from implementing across the board for all students to starting with incoming 9th grade students.

    Why not remove the Top Scholars banquet?

    The Top Scholars Banquet has served as a traditional event sponsored by the NHS that recognizes seniors with the highest GPA’s. This warrants further discussion.

    If reducing stress is the goal, perhaps the district should consider limiting the NUMBER of AP classes a student can take. For ex, no more than four per year, but keep the weight. Panel, do other high schools do this, and would it affect admission?

    Panel representatives continue to note that they factor in the policies of the school district when considering the types of courses a student takes. If the District capped the number of AP courses a student could take, according to the college admissions representatives, this would not hurt our students in the admissions process. We have looked at the policies of a number of area school districts (Upper St. Clair, Mt. Lebanon, Fox Chapel, Pine Richland, etc.) and none of those high schools cap the number of AP courses a student can take.

    If the AP and Honors course are weighted the same what is the incentive for students to even consider taking AP courses? Will the colleges still award credit to students taking AP courses?

    The colleges and universities make the decision to award credit for AP classes to students independently of the District's grade weighting policy. It is always advised that students review the admissions practices and/or transfer credit policies of a college or university prior to enrollment. Some colleges wish to see enrollment in rigorous Honors and AP courses, but do not offer academic credit across the board.

    The "timing" of the weighted GPA decision will directly affect the students who are currently enrolled in Honors/AP courses in 9-11th grades. Shouldn't the input of these students and parents influence the timing? What is the school doing to make sure that these students are not adversely affected?

    The survey does include a question regarding the timing of any potential adjustments to grade weighting.

    If they remove the grade weighting, would the AP science classes still have a lab period? Would the AP curriculum still be the same? Would the students be prepared for the AP test?

    Whether or not the course is weighted, AP and Honors classes would continue to be delivered in the same manner.

    General

    If the students have a lighter homework load, would they not get more sleep and have less stress? The two students who have asked questions both have questioned their workload.

    Student workload is directly related to the level of courses that students take. Ensuring that the District provides structures that help to support healthy students, such as increased sleep and reduced stress is an important focus of the District.

    It is unreasonable to believe that students can take a very rigorous workload of Honors and AP classes without having significant work. However, ensuring that the work associated with courses is necessary and valuable and ensuring that District structures, such as the school day, promote healthy habits must both be a focus of any discussions the District has regarded to reducing student stress.

    A rigorous workload is not limited to academics. Many students seek to participate in extracurricular and curricular activities, part-time jobs, volunteer opportunities, and more. It is critical that an evaluation of the responsibilities that a student assumes is conducted to reduce overall stress.

    Part of being an adolescent is learning HOW to deal with stress, and reducing stress with these measures seems like it will just delay the maturation of people's own development of methods with which to cope with stress. So how is this program going to help with anything?

    School start times and grade weighting are part of a larger conversation we are having around tackling student stress. A piece of this work involves teaching strategies to students that help them manage stress, focus and attention through mindful practices.

    Time to get things done is what creates student stress. Why not offer an activity period at the end of the school day like the middle schools schedules have built into their day?

    This is something the District may be exploring in the coming year or two.

    Will the results of the November 14-22 survey be shared with parents/respondents?

    Results of the survey will be prepared and shared with the Board of School Directors.

    If reducing stress is the goal, perhaps the district should consider limiting the NUMBER of AP classes a student can take. For example, no more than four per year, but keep the weight. For the panel: Do other high schools do this, and would it affect admission?

    According to the panelists, some do and some don’t. Additionally, some colleges evaluate applications based on the context of a student’s high school and would never hold it against a student if they were bound by school policy. That said, this is where effective college and school counseling can assist students in choosing the most advanced courses that make the most sense.

    Why not be innovative/cost effective to find ways to reduce student stress? Why not explore block scheduling-only taking 4 classes vs 8 classes at a time? What about offering a mandatory study hall period at HS level at end of day? Or start school later and drop to 7 class periods per day?

    The District is planning to explore a variety of school schedules in the coming school years. These conversations will include the possibility of a block schedule and other innovative options.

    Why isn't there any discussion about tackling the root cause of the problem and stop accepting CCAC for grade skipping?

    For some students, grade acceleration is appropriate. Unfortunately, many students pursue this opportunity only to find themselves struggling to meet the demands for the next grade or course in the sequence. It also takes away a student’s opportunity to participate in other activities throughout the summer. This is a dilemma that the District is well aware of and one that will continue to be discussed as we unpack the root causes of student stress.

    Why aren't waivers being further considered? They seem to be overly lenient, which causes students to continually have more and more stress each year, as they continue to be more unprepared.

    The waiver process is designed to support students who may not meet all of the prerequisites for an Honors or AP course. In some cases, the request is appropriate as the student may have barely missed some of the benchmarks. In other cases, this may not be the right fit for students and it can lead to additional stress for students. This is a dilemma that the District is well aware of and one that will continue to be discussed as we unpack the root causes of student stress.