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.

Shakespeare Would Start School Earlier, At Least Before Football Season Begins

Love, whose month is ever May,
Spied a blossom passing fair
Playing in the wanton air.
And students’ eyes wondered far
Their studies not import any more.
(Love’s Labour’s Lost, 4.3.104)

Actually the last two lines are not Shakespeare’s. They’re mine, but it really fits into what I am about to argue.

There’s seems to be something amiss when your high school’s football team plays two home games before students even attend their first class. Why? Because we start school too late.

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

  1. 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.
  2. There are no educational purpose waivers for exemption of the opening and/or closing dates.
  3. All schools within the district must be closed all day for purposes of determining eligibility for a weather related waiver (delayed starts or early dismissals of two or more hours no longer apply).
  4. Covers at least nine calendar months.
  5. Must have a minimum of 185 days OR 1,025 hours of instruction.
  6. Must have at least nine (9) teacher workdays.
  7. Local Boards shall designate two (2) workdays on which teachers may take accumulated vacation leave. Local Boards may designate the remaining workdays as days teachers may take accumulated vacation leave.
  8. Have a minimum of ten (10) annual vacation leave days.
  9. Have the same or an equivalent number of legal holidays occurring within the school calendar as those designated by the State Personnel Commission for State employees.
  10. School shall not be held on Sunday.
  11. Veterans Day shall be a holiday for all public school personnel and for all students enrolled in the public schools.

Requirements 2-11 make sense. You must have this many days of school, workdays, legal holidays, etc.

It’s the first one that seems incongruous to the purpose of schools.

With such an emphasis on test scores and “student achievement” as measured by those 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.

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 days of testing to accommodate the laws. Add in that a day or two that student have to reacquaint themselves to school. They are coming off a break and thrown straight into a frenzy of testing and noncontact 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.

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 a true block class 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.

So what should happen? Well, schools should start earlier in August to allow for the exam period for the first semester to end before the winter break. Rumor has it that the tourism industry in North Carolina lobbied very hard for schools to start after the “summer” vacation season. That seems profit driven and North Carolina needs to do a lot more than change school calendars to help with its image for tourists.

If you ever teach in high schools, you will see that students actually go on “summer” mode starting in May, when the weather changes and spring sports come to an end. Spring fever is a real thing in schools. When the weather warms, the students become more prone to want to be elsewhere than a classroom.

It seems that changing the calendar for the school year to allow students to finish at the end of May and start toward the first of August gives them a better chance to perform well on the very tests that the very body of lawmakers who dictate school calendars measure those very same students by.

It just seems logical. Colleges and universities already do it. Why can’t North Carolina high schools do it?

Besides, it just seems weird to have two football games before you even crack a book for class.

At least Shakespeare would think so.