Why Do We Have Exams After The Winter Break?Change The Calendar!

Days like today is why we need to start the school year earlier here in North Carolina.

While it is nice to think of having a winter break to celebrate the holidays, the calendar system that North Carolina has adopted for traditional public schools is not helping our students AT ALL.

I have argued this very point before, but here on January 2, 2017 a day before we start a shortened week that leads into another week where exams actually start for the fall semester, it bears reminding.

school-calendar

The following is from a post in July:

“As it stands right now, a Senate Bill (187) from the 2012 session stipulates the following for school calendars:

Start date no earlier than the Monday closest to August 26 and end date no later than the Friday closest to June 11 (unless a weather related calendar waiver has been approved, year-round school, charter school or cooperative innovative high school.) If waiver is approved the start date can be no earlier than the Monday closest to August 19.

With such an emphasis on test scores and “student achievement” as measured by those same scores, it would make sense to allow the first semester to actually end with exams taken before the winter break. As it stands now, most students in traditional public schools in the state do not take exams for block classes until after the winter break, a time period which generally lasts two weeks.

Some may argue that that is only a two week hiatus, but actually it is longer than that, and it creates an intellectual and mental lapse that affects student scores and ultimately how schools are measured.

Students tend to get excited for the winter break as many look forward to Christmas and other holidays. Commercially speaking, most students are bombarded with other stimuli. Yet, when school reconvenes for the first semester exams, the state and county systems have to create a testing window so that all required stipulations are followed.

Ironically, a whole new year starts on the calendar, but students and teachers are still stuck in the fall semester. Tax forms and W-2’s are being put together because the tax cycle ended; students are still working on second quarter grades.

With EOCT’s, NC Tests, and teacher made exams plus required makeup sessions built in, many public schools are forced to have at least seven (often more) days of testing to accommodate the laws. Add in that a day or two that students need to reacquaint themselves with school. They are coming off a break and thrown straight into a frenzy of testing and have minimal contact with teachers who need review time for exams. Also, consider the holiday for Martin Luther King Jr.’s observed birthday and students are a little more scattered than usual.

On a block schedule (A/B day), this means that for over four weeks of time (holidays and exam schedule combined), a teacher may see his or her students for maybe the equivalent of 3 class periods. For true block classes that usually have those state exams used to rate schools, that means teachers see their students for maybe five class periods during that same frame.

In a regular four week A/B schedule time period, a teacher usually engages a class for at least 10 class periods. A true block class, at least 20.

To say that this schedule does not affect test scores is shortsighted at the least.”

And there are other concerns that should be considered.

  • Many students work during this time full-time hours.
  • Without guided instruction, students may not actually experience academic atrophy.
  • Many seniors are having to finish college applications while worrying about exams.
  • Winter athletes are having to worry about athletic eligibility ovet the break instead of having already secured it.
  • Winter weather can cause an even linger break.
  • If schools are closed, then tutoring opportunities and academic help is limited.
  • January’s pacing is frenetic at best – not a good way to start the new year.

Besides, to feel that the school year was officially “half-way” finished when the actual new year started is a mentally better approach.

5 thoughts on “Why Do We Have Exams After The Winter Break?Change The Calendar!

  1. As someone who has taught on both schedules, I respectfully disagree that having exams before Christmas is good for kids. In SC, we go back and forth, sometimes ending before the holidays, and every time we do, the students do measurably worse on finals. They are too excited, too checked out already to care. Now I’m heading into a week where I have to start new classes with little prep time. Far better to return for a week and a half to students and classes I know and one final push for exams before turning around for a new semester. Plus, starting in early August is the pits, and this year first semester was five days shorter than second and our holiday break was cut. Be careful what you wish for.

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    • Having taught in GA for many years, I loved having exams before the break. There is also the added dynamic of block classes and A day / B day schedules. I won’t really see my kids that much after the break before exams anyway. Thanks for your thoughts.

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      • We are on 4×4, so that is different. We do see our kids every day. I will add that many of my colleagues like ending before Christmas. Next year we will be back to ending after Christmas because the start time would be so early. Have a good second semester. I enjoy your blog.

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  2. The entire premise of this article is based on the quaint notion that the state’s school calendar and the testing that falls within are actually predicated on an educational benefit to students. As I understand, the state legislature established the beginning dates of the school year after the idea of a longer school year gained traction so that businesses benefiting from tourist dollars, primarily at the coast, who lobbied the legislature heavily, would not have their “season” truncated by an earlier start to the school year. So much for the legislature’s feigned altruistic interest in prioritizing education. And “the testing season” frenzy itself is something to behold from the inside. EOC’s, state competencies, teacher-made exams et.al. and the preparation for them all wagging the educational dog. Granted, accountability is an important part of the educational process, but the frenzied orgy of testing, much of it of questionable quality and value, precludes virtually any learning happening for perhaps weeks. The essential (or what should be) focus of the entire enterprise dissolves in a froth of focusing on product, rather than the invaluable sacrosanct process which is teaching and learning.

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