Mid-year assessments will replace midterms next year and will be held in December the week before winter break. There will be two 90-minute exams each day.
“This decision was trying to be sensitive to the fact that students are feeling pressured with regard to their time and part of this was caused by being heavily tested before break and then over winter break having to prepare for exams,” Faculty Academic Committee Head Kent Nealis said. “It really made winter break not really a break.”
Nealis, Scheduler Beverly Feulner, Science Department Head Larry Axelrod, Assistant to the Head of Upper School Michelle Bracken, Upper School Dean Sharon Cuseo and Upper School Dean Beth Slattery will work as a team to finalize the assessment schedule.
Since the new assessments are shorter, FAC is encouraging teachers to “explore alternative forms of assessment and have assessments count less than traditional midterms,” Head of Upper School Audrius Barzdukas said in an email reporting the change.
“The assessments are designed to be something less than the semester exam,” Nealis said. “That assessment might in fact just be a unit test. I don’t envision it being as weighty as a semester exam.”
This decrease in testing importance makes next year’s mid-year assessments similar to those instituted for freshmen this year.
During the week of Dec. 15-19, no regular classes will meet, there will be no sports competitions or performing arts performances and sports practices will be limited to one hour.
While this limits time before winter break, this change frees up time in January for sports and helps synchronize the sports schedule with other schools, so league games no longer interfere with midterms.
Moving the exams also frees up January for teaching.
Previously, teachers only had a few days to teach new material, and then had to start reviewing for midterms, but now teachers will be able to teach through January.
“January was not a month that typically a lot of teaching took place,” Nealis said. “School would start and stop, start and stop, so we decided to address the issue of pressure students were feeling from all these assessments.”
The exception to this new schedule is for one-semester classes.
One-semester classes that have a traditional final exam will still be able to have one on the last two days of the semester, which will end Jan. 16.
Second semester will begin after a four-day semester break Jan. 21, and since semester break is earlier than before, the administration is adding a long weekend in March to break up the long stretch of no vacations.
One other consequence of the schedule change is that the two semesters will be equal in number of days, which will benefit AP courses because there will be more teaching days in second semester before the exams.
The scheduling committee is deciding between two main scheduling outlines.
One possibility is scheduling exams by period, so everyone’s first period class assessment will be on one day, but this means teachers might have to make multiple versions of tests for each section since each class will be tested on multiple days if it is taught in different periods.
Others prefer a schedule similar to now, where all students in a section take the exam in the same period, which is why the scheduling team is still working out the specifics.
Head of Upper School Jeanne Huybrechts, proposed that the first through fourth period exams be held Monday and Tuesday, then a break day, then the rest of the exams Thursday and Friday.
However, she also likes the idea of all sections of a class taking the exam at the same time.
“What I like about having an exam — everyone who takes a given class having an exam at the same time — is that there’s this wonderful cooperative thing that happens here, with everyone prepping for the Algebra II with Analysis exam,” Huybrechts said. “Kids making study guides online, and helping each other, that’s kind of nice too.”
The assessment change is currently scheduled to last one year to see how it works out, at which point FAC will decide if it wants to keep the changes or go back to midterm exams.
FAC believes that the students will receive the changes to midterms well.
When Nealis told his class about the changes, he said they responded in favor of the them, and that they believed it would reduce their stress.