Milton’s Unique Exam Schedule: The Community’s Perspective
by The Milton Measure on Friday, January 13th, 2017
High school students across the country would likely agree that the phrase “exam week” triggers many emotions, most of which are negative. However, while all students might generally oppose exams, at Milton, the exam schedule differs from that of most high schools. As we all know, rather than right before winter vacation in December, our midterms fall at the end of January.
Ms. Bonenfant shares her perspective, saying that exams are necessary and that “having a period of time for students to look back over the work of the semester helps students synthesize that work and helps them to see the ‘big picture’ in the course.”
While every member of the community likely has a distinct opinion about the timing of exams, it is clear that any exam schedule would have pros and cons. Regarding the benefits of Milton’s midterm scheduling, Mr. Heard remarked, “Exams before break would need to cover September, October, and November content which limits teachers by about four weeks. Having late January testing makes for a better body of material for all classes.”
Mr. Wood also discussed how the timing of exams influences the uniformity and length of the semesters, adding that, “it allows the first and second semesters to be more uniform in length and it gives students more time to prepare.”
Isabel Greenberg (II) enjoys how “you have the option to prepare over break” and also spoke about how not having to worry about testing in December gives students more time to enjoy the holiday season with friends and family before starting the exam process.
While December break may seem like the perfect time to get ahead on January exam preparation, most of the students who plan to study over break do not end up following through. Undoubtedly, it can be difficult to find the motivation to do unrequired school work having just completed the brutal two-and-a-half week stretch between Thanksgiving and winter break.
Although there are some benefits to saving exams for after vacation, students and teachers encounter flaws with the schedule as well. On the topic of drawbacks, Mr. Heard spoke to the issue of New England’s unpredictable January weather as well as the fundamental problems with exams, questioning whether or not students really obtain significant longterm or shortterm value from their efforts. Ms. Bonenfant voiced her concerns that the amount of time spent on exam week (several days for exams and review) is “significant,” and “the payoff might not be worthwhile.”
Mr. Wood also surfaced the point that “[having exams after break] might mean students have exams on their minds during the break, and so are not able to relax and enjoy time with their families fully.” While this stance has merit, a similar issue would occur if exams were before break: students would have another major task to worry about before vacation and would likely not get to spend much time with friends and classmates before departing.
Mr. Wood was also able to give his perspective on what exam week had been like at his previous school, where students took midterms before break. “At my previous school, CATS Academy,” he explained, “exams came before the winter break and so students were exhausted by exam time, which likely impaired their performance. This was especially true by the last day or two of exams.”
It can be difficult to get back into a focused mindset after returning from Thanksgiving break, especially with another vacation within reach. As Mr. Wood mentioned, students would be very tired around this time. With exams at the end of January, right after nearly three weeks of vacation and rest, hopefully students are able to feel more refreshed and rejuvenated.
In addition, more and more exams at Milton have switched from the traditional two hour sit down test format to a project, problem set, or major essay, which can alleviate stress from students. Ms. Bonenfant says she doesn’t think “sit-down exams are necessarily the best way for students to demonstrate what they know and [is] happy that teachers offer different assessments.” Ms. Bonenfant also believes “we should figure out how to accommodate more of those types of assessments throughout the course of the year.”
Perhaps exam week, with its current schedule, will no longer exist in the future as many classes adopt a more project-based curriculum. Evidently, finding an ideal schedule and method for examining students’ semester work is a work in progress, and no method would serve perfectly for everyone.
Short URL: http://miltonmeasure.org/?p=8558