Administrators and Faculty Reevaluate the Purpose of Midyear Exams

A+student+takes+an+exam+during+class.

A student takes an exam during class.

Anna Van der Linden

A student takes an exam during class.
A student takes an exam during class (Photo/ Max Simons).

Without a doubt, one of the major aspects of high school is testing. From end of term tests to MCAS to vocabulary quizzes, to SATs, students are used to the testing cycle: procrastinating, late night cramming, butterflies the morning of, and finally, relief when their exam is over. For years, Walpole High School students have been rewarded with a shortened day after a specific set of major tests: mid-year exams. Normally during mid-years, school starts at 7:15 and ends at either 9:15 or 11:15 after the students take one or two tests, depending on their schedule. For some, getting out of school early makes up for the stress of studying, and for others, it is a chance to start prepping for the next test. Either way, the free time is a well appreciated break…or at least it used to be.

Currently, administration and faculty are reevaluating the purpose and schedule for Midyear Examinations  at Walpole High School.  While some faculty members have moved away from these examinations because they interrupt classroom instruction, other teachers have adamantly defended these high-stakes exams as crucial measures of student learning.  As a compromise between these two groups, Principal Stephen Imbusch distributed a tentative schedule change for that week.  Although the schedule change is not definite yet, one thing appears clear: Midyear Examinations will cease to exist in the form they have previously at Walpole High School.

In the spring of last year, Mr. Imbusch sent out a new mid-year exam schedule for teachers to give feedback. The tentative schedule follows the typical school hours of 7:15 to 2:00 with a few exceptions. The first period will last an hour and a half for teachers to administer an exam or simply run a longer class.

“Students will get a longer period each exam day, and teachers will decide how to use it,” said Mr. Imbusch. After the test, students finish the school day by going to their next four blocks for a shortened time. This exam day repeats for a full seven day cycle so that each period will get the chance to have a longer block.

This long period, while obviously providing testing time for those who wish to administer a midyear, also opens instructional opportunities for teachers. Departments decide whether or not they wish to give out a test. Teachers who don’t give out an exam, like most English teachers, may just choose to use the time as an instructional period. Advanced Placement teachers may present a practice AP Exam to their students during the longer block. Classes can experiment with different activities that would typically be too long for a normal period. For classes that are not having an exam, the longer class time is a positive change.

However, the four other blocks are more controversial. Obviously, because these four classes will exist after the long block, the school is no longer having shortened exam days, a change that students unanimously oppose. In the recent survey of 84 students, over 96% said they oppose the tentative policy. This number is almost the entire student body. And the other three percent? They declined to answer the question. If any students approve of this change, their numbers are few.

“If I spend most of my night studying for an exam, it will be difficult to work hard in my other classes, because I will be focused on the test,” said junior Katie Houser.

Many students cited that they play a sport, have a job, or participate in another after school activity; therefore, their studying time is cut much shorter. Some may be out until 8:00 at night, leaving them little time to study.

“Kids are going to have to prepare for their exam the next morning,”    Mr. Imbusch said. “That’s a concern of mine, if people are giving homework and also expecting kids to study for the exam.”  If students will be attending their other classes during a normal week, presumably they will be having normal amounts of homework, which can be 2-5 hours a night.  Mr. Imbusch did not offer a definite solution for this potential problem, but he plans to address it before the change is finalized.

“Our main concern is loss of class time, and loss of instructional time,” said English Department Head Lauren Culliton who teaches Advanced Placement Literature. The Midyear Examination week falls during the six weeks between Christmas vacation and February vacation. While the exams take one week to complete, factor in the two weekends and a few review days, and the midyear week becomes almost two weeks of neither instruction nor active learning.  According to Mr. Imbusch, exams affect the learning process because they disrupt a six week time frame that could otherwise be used for learning new material.

“I do not not support staying with last year’s schedule that we used to have. I just feel like it’s too much of a block to learning,” said Mr. Imbusch, “I would like to get rid of the midyears, but I’m not going to impose that on people.  If they want a longer block and they make a good case for it, I’m going to make sure that they get it.”

The situation will be exacerbated this year by the switch from MCAS to PARCC. PARCC is much more time consuming than MCAS as students will take the exam twice a year over multiple grade levels. Ms. Culliton said, “With the PARCC, students are going to miss twice as much class time, over three years instead of just one year.” Even more frustrating is the fact that students will take the test at different times, so teachers will be left without a full class of kids for days in a row. These combined factors will lead to an enormous loss of full, productive class time for teachers — much more than is usually lost from a school year.

Less class time will severely affect the Advanced Placement classes. Walpole AP students are already at a disadvantage because Walpole Schools start later than other school districts in the country — beginning in early September while most schools start in mid to late August. However, the AP test dates are predetermined and cannot be moved, leaving Walpole students with less time to learn the material. Teachers are already racing to teach all the necessary information to students before the exam date, and now on top of that, they will have to work around the standardized testing.

“The class time is very important for teachers and I believe that once they see how little instructional time they have, more will agree with the changes,” said Ms. Culliton.

Clearly, while the time gained back from the new midyear schedule could be very beneficial for some teachers, the school is not unanimous on the subject as many feel strongly for each side, and more issues with the new schedule may be revealed as the year progresses.  With the student body opposed, the faculty divided, the future of Walpole’s Midyear Examinations rests in the hands of the administrators.