In years past, not studying over the winter break may not have been a big deal. But this year is different.As the article points out, most schools used last week as a review week, and the students are now being tested on material that they may not have seen for at least three weeks. It just doesn't make sense.
Because of a later school starting date, Aug. 27, students didn't begin taking their first-semester exams until this week. So, as Jordan and thousands of other high school students across Texas returned to class this month, teachers greeted them not with new material but with previous semester exams.
A two-week hiatus before exams causes some students enormous stress.
"It's just easy to lose focus," said Charles Douglas Jr., a 17-year-old senior at North Mesquite High School.
He said his teachers urged him and his classmates to study and review notes over the break, but he was too busy spending time with his family.
The first week back, Charles had tests that covered what he learned over the past six weeks. And this week, he had comprehensive semester exams.
"Even the teachers were complaining," he said. "To retain all this information and then use it is a lot to ask of some teenagers."
There are some ways around this (besides the long-term solution of voting out the legislators who caved in to the desires of the entertainment industry and took a valuable chunk of local control away from the districts). One would be to do what a couple of high schools have already done: Use a trimester calendar. They have five periods of slightly over an hour apiece that meet every day, and many classes that would normally take an entire year to complete can be done in four six weeks' time. (The rest of the high schools in my district are on an eight-period "A/B" block, where four of the eight classes meet every other day for an hour and a half apiece.) Perhaps the best argument for trimesters would be the fact that their major exams are given in the last full week before Thanksgiving, the end of February, and the last week of the school year, so fact that the third six-weeks is divided up by Christmas break (yes, I said it again) becomes much less of an issue.
But trimesters may not be for everybody. One of the downsides is that, with only five periods, it's hard to get all of the required classes in for students with multiple electives. Our schools start so early (7:30 a.m.) that it's nearly impossible to do a "zero hour" class, which would normally occur before the school day (6:15 a.m. class, anyone?). So perhaps Highland Park's idea would work for some people. It's a somewhat radical idea: Unbalanced semesters!
Highland Park ISD decided to finish first-semester exams in December despite the new law. Under its current calendar, the first semester has 80 days and the second has 95. But once mandatory testing days, such as for TAKS, are subtracted, the semesters are nearly even, said Helen Williams, director of communications.Some school officials interviewed for the article seemed to recoil at this idea, but I give kudos to HP for thinking outside the proverbial box. Who says that the semesters have to be equal, after all? Plano is considering the method, and, if it seems to work, it may well be copied by others.
Granted, I have a dog in this fight. As a private music teacher whose high-schoolers have solo and ensemble in three weeks and two days (but who's counting?), I haven't seen a whole lot of practicing going on this week at the semester schools (while most of the trimester kids improved by leaps and bounds this week). But I'd be against having exams this week even if it didn't affect me personally at all.
It will be interesting to see how the grades compare on exams taken this year vs. those taken before Christmas a year ago...and you'd better believe that teachers and principals will be tracking this stuff. And let's hope that, down the road, voters will have the courage to elect people who actually have the best interests of education at heart.
But here's one rescheduled test I can agree with: One of the other issues connected with the later start is that it moved all the TAKS testing two weeks later. But people forgot to consider that the Tuesday of TAKS week suddenly coincided with the March 4 presidential primary. Since TAKS and voting would be taking place at some of the same schools, the state's education commissioner wisely opted to move all testing away from Tuesday that week. Not only does that avoid the distraction of having voters and test-takers in close proximity, but it also guarantees that teachers won't be caught up in long hours on testing day and will thus have the ability to cast their own ballots on that day.