Shifted finals schedule prompts student and staff response

Louise Bond and Sari Oppenheimer

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A monumental change.

For the first time in recent history, ETHS held its first semester finals before winter break, a move intended to improve student well-being
The school board voted to approve this schedule change during the 2017-2018 school year, and staff were notified that June via email, then again at the beginning of the 2018-19 school year so they had the whole year to prepare.

“We cut two weeks of semester one and moved them to semester two, which ended up being the last unit of the semester,” math teacher Jodi Alperstein said. “We also had to change the final exams accordingly with the move of that unit.

The main rationale for the schedule change on the administrative level was to allow all teachers and students to have their winter break without the stress of upcoming exams.

“We, [the Board], felt that everybody needed a break,” Assistant Superintendent and Principal Marcus Campbell said. “People were working over winter break, and we figured if we moved exams before the break and gave teachers an opportunity to grade before and after break… then everybody would have a clean two weeks to just not have to do any work. So it was really along the lines of well-being.”

Many students felt that having exams before break made more sense and achieved the administration’s goal of minimizing stress and workload over break.

“I think having finals before break makes winter break an actual break where students and teachers can relax,” junior Naiyah Bryant said. “Also, coming back from break and knowing that it is the second semester and getting into new electives you might have or new lunch periods feels right and helped me and many of my friends get situated into the second academic semester.”

In fact, according to The Evanstonian survey, 90.3% of students preferred finals before break. The reasons students preferred finals before break ranged from having a less stressful winter break to the transition from winter break to second semester feeling smoother

“It felt really nice coming back from winter break without stressing about finals. It seemed like a definite end to the semester,” senior Tommy Tang said.

The Calendar Committee is in charge of creating the District 202 calendar for each school year. They hold meetings that are open to all students, teachers, community members and faculty where they consider state regulations while designing future year’s calendars, then recommends it to the Board. Associate Principal of Educational Services and chair of the committee Keith Robinson described how he perceived how the schedule shift went.

“That’s healthy to detach from this space and refuel. And we found that even that first week back, at least from observation of the hallways and looking at the culture and climate of the building, it’s been a really smooth start,” Robinson said.

This also provided teachers with ample time to take a break, as they were also given a chance to grade before winter break and the week coming back from break with grades not being due until Thursday, Jan. 9—meaning they didn’t need to work over break either.
On Jan. 13, administrators emailed a survey to teachers to gather feedback about how the first year of this exam schedule shift went, and they are also working on a student survey to send out before the end of this school year.

When the schedule change was first announced to students in the 2018-2019 school year, there were varying reactions from the student body.

“Initially, I was surprised,” senior Olivia Levitas said. “I did not like that my class would be the guinea pigs again for something new the school was doing.”

Some students felt that the end of the second quarter felt very rushed, and the week leading up to exams was not utilized for review.
“I felt that I was still doing projects that were part of the quarter up until the day of my finals,” Levitas said. “I did not feel that we really had the time to study during the school week like we have had in the past.”

This schedule change had some unintended consequences as well. One significant consequence was the difference in length of each semester. While the first semester was 80 school days, the second will be 96. Especially for one semester classes, this was a challenging adjustment.

“I felt that my first semester students did not receive the full wellness education experience due to [16] fewer days,” wellness teacher Montell Wilburn said. “My students’ preparation time for their ‘edutaining presentations’ was cut short which affected the overall quality of their performances. I wish there were an equal amount of days both semesters.”

With the District 202 calendar already set and approved for the 2020-2021 school year, first semester exams are planned again for before winter break. There will be 13 fewer days in first semester than second, a smaller difference than this school year.