By Lindsay Cashman and Kendall Lambert
Over these past few months, particularly the frantic month of December, there was much speculation as to whether this new exam schedule would reign superior to the previous. With the pressure of the holidays, and the desperate ache for winter vacation, the thought of only two to three exams surely sounded luxurious, however as those exams came and went, it became clearer that there were many mixed opinions.
In contrast to the old exam schedule, in which, after winter break, there were two hour assessments in every class that a student was enrolled in, including a full reading day dedicated to seeing teachers, the new exam schedule has exams in only two subjects (math and science), as well as 90 minutes of a normal school day dedicated to seeing teachers. During this modified exam week, teachers in humanities classes could not give major tests or projects. In the weeks after break, humanities classes may then give major assessments, assign projects, or hold exams similar to those prior to winter vacation.
With a desire to uncover the opinions of those in the Roland Park Country School community, we asked select students and teachers their thoughts on this new schedule. According to those students, the most difficult part about the exam schedule was the excessive amounts of homework they were given, on top of having to study for exams. Some students still had tests and quizzes the same week as exams, one student even stating that she, “had 3 major assessments due on ‘review’ week.” Many students complained that their stress levels were increased with the instillation of this new exam schedule. A comment from one student states that she among others now have, “make up work that they were unable to complete prior [to exams],” that she now must complete over the holidays. Though many students possessed positive thoughts about the new schedule going into the weeks leading up to the assessments, they expressed frustration with the amounts of homework and stress as the exams drew nearer.
Yet, it wasn’t just the homework amounts that left some students worrying, but the shortened reading day troubled not only those students, but some teachers as well. Transitioning from a full day of review into a 90-minute period squeezed into a shortened schedule, the same day as the Christmas program, was a difficult change. A number of students expressed their dislike of the shortened reading day, rather reading 90 minutes, saying that, “all the science and math teachers were completely overloaded, so there was very little opportunity to review with your teachers during that time period,” and, “it was nearly impossible to meet with a teacher.” One student even said that the stress of reading day “discouraged [her] from trying to study for exams.” Of those students interviewed, 75% expressed distaste for the revised reading day, and the other 25% were not present during reading day, a few stating their reason for absence as being in the Christmas program.
However, it wasn’t just the students who expressed discomfort for reading day, but a few teachers spoke of their difficulties as well. With those instructors being bombarded with the entirety of their classes, all in a short span of 90 minutes, within one classroom, the complexities are only imaginable. Teachers want the students to succeed as much as the students do, yet with only one of them, plenty of us, and an hour and a half, there will be some problems. Upon asking several teachers their thoughts on the reading day experience, many mixed opinions were shared. Some teachers brought up the point that in their science and math classes, students have the chance to increase their grades after the exams. Some teachers said that, “the 1.5 hours of reading day were not ideal,” however went on to say that “the schedule worked out” based upon the number of classes they taught. Though some students did feel as though they did not get all of their questions answered as, again, there is only one teacher and many students with questions.
Of all the students that we reached out to, 38% expressed their wishes to return the schedule to what it once was, yet the other 62% stated that changing the exams to before break instead of after was a smart transition, however they also all said that adjustments should be made if the schedule were to stay. Some suggestions include, “having all exams before break,” and the “two exams before winter break idea, but [bringing] back review days and reading day,” However many students felt uncomfortable with this new exam schedule, it is important to be reminded that the goal was not to confuse and worry the students, but to figure out a way to make the exam period a less stressful time. Now that the math and science departments have finished their exams, and as we move onto January with humanities preparing their projects and assessments, the faculty observes and takes in all that has happened in order to better the students’ and the teachers’ exam experience. To gain better insight on the new exam schedule, we reached out to our upper school head, Mrs. Malfa, to hear her piece pre-exam period:
“…We wanted to reduce student stress and gain instructional time. We also wanted to make sure whatever we did aligned with our missions as college preparatory schools… The other thing we felt strongly about was we wanted students to have a real break from work over the winter holiday.”
We also asked for her post-exam period thoughts:
“The biggest benefit I can see right now is classes have gained significant instructional time. (This comes from cutting out a week of exams, a full day for reading day, and a make-up day.) The biggest difficulty/problem I see right now was the loss of reading day and the impact of the timing of exams and the Christmas program.”
With the start of the new year, and going into the end of the semester, we suggest that everyone keep an open mind regarding the schedule. The faculty has everyone’s best interests in mind. It is unknown what the exam schedule for winter 2017 will look like, however we wish everyone luck in the months between now and then.