Midterm Schedule Experiences a Shake-Up, Tests Split Over Break


Anjali Budhram, Sports Editor

In years past, Poly had a formal midterm assessment week that took place in mid-December, right before winter break. This year, exams are set to take place during two separate weeks divided by winter break, according to an email Head of Upper School Sarah Bates sent to the school in November.

The schedule is designed to help spread out the assessments and provide you adequate time for preparation. The getting rid of all classes and having set midterm days where only a few departments were giving traditional exams just didn’t seem to work for the school as a whole anymore,” said Bates. STEM and World language exams will occur December 5th through the 16th, and humanities classes January 9th through the 13th.

“We didn’t want [students] studying over winter break, so we denoted that second week  we get back from winter break as another testing week. The second week was chosen because we didn’t want the first week back from winter break to be testing, also we wanted to ensure teachers would have enough time to grade and provide feedback before the end of the first semester,” said Bates. 

Bates explained that there was a meeting held in the spring of the ’21-’22 academic year concerning the possibilities for this year’s midterm week. “Upper School deans were consulted because they are on the forefront of all student concerns, as well as department chairs. It was actually a recommendation from the department chairs. It didn’t make sense to proctor exams, assign papers or projects to semester-long classes that have 3-4 weeks of classes left after winter break. In an effort to help the students not have so much work the week before winter break the department chairs, when we debriefed last spring about what was the best path moving forward, they came up with this solution,” said Bates. 

As of recently, Poly’s efforts to increase focus on mental health have been things like instilling a day off last year dedicated to mental health, as well having an Upper School Wellness Day. Keeping that ideal at the frontline, Bates explained how the elimination of the dedicated midterm week is intended to reduce student stress.

Ramesh Laungani, head of the science department said, “At the center of all of these decisions is how to manage student stress, then we build from there.” Laungani also noted that the midterms being taken in a classroom setting may also decrease student stress. “We are also isolating to the classroom setting to see if that minimizes the number of absences,” he said.

Head of the English department, Peter Nowakowski, advocated for this change for similar reasons. “I also understand from a student perspective, taking away this high pressure situation, means you can do better on your other assessments provided your organizing. Also most of us assign some sort of essay anyways,” said Nowakowski.

In the past, humanities at Poly has not been comprehensively evaluated in the form of a standardized test, so Poly is striving to move away from that formal test-taking. Conversely, the STEM-focused classes will proctor a formal test.

“Last year, History and English seemed to be doing papers anyway, so having these two weeks provide better guidelines for teachers and managing student stress,” added Bates. 

Students have responded to the newly instituted midterm plan with both confusion and stress. 

“The point of midterms and a big psychological aspect is that you go on break and feel the relief of being done and then enjoy your break and come back ready for second semester. This new schedule seems to get rid of that and honestly it seems like it is putting us at a disadvantage,” stated Junior Laila Baluk.

“The midterm week made it more manageable, this change seems more stress-inducing,” added Sophomore Zoë Campbell. 

Responding to student concerns Bates wrote in an email to the Polygon, “Per student stress, I recommend that they create a schedule for themselves of their individual mid-year assessments. In this model, and depending on their course schedule, they will have 3 tests the week before winter break rather than 6+ in a week. The departments that are not giving assessments in those weeks will not have homework or assessments, so the workload is significantly reduced compared to previous years. Any change can seem stressful, but if they look at their own individual schedule, they will find that the assessments are spread out much more than they used to be.”

Bates added “proper college preparation is one of the key pillars in the Poly community and relies on the curriculum and student assessment to achieve this, resulting in the updated midterm week.”

“Midterms are tough because in the big scheme of things, does it matter? What is sort of the pedagogical purpose of having a midterm assessment? Some will say it’s actually evaluative for their teaching practice; it’s a way to help students get into the practice of a cumulative evaluation of knowledge which parlays directly into college, and we felt it was our responsibility to prepare you for that,” said Bates.

 “I think it is important to practice timed writing, especially for college. But most of us handle that during class time,” added Nowakowski.

Horace Mann, another private independent New York school, took to an even more drastic shift in the layout of their midterms by eliminating them altogether. Staff writer and student Avani Khorana wrote about the change on December 7th, 2021 in their student publication The Record:

 “The school has taken steps to mitigate the pressure students are under such as getting rid of calculated GPAs and midterms.”

In 2020, the impacts of COVID resulted in the elimination of midterm week, “We had to shut down school because of COVID,” added Bates. Poly returned the year after in hopes of resuming pre-pandemic practices. Supporting and inculcating test-taking in Poly students leads to a stronger and more competitive academic environment.

“We will see how it goes this year and get feedback from students, department chairs, deans, faculty…and if it works we will keep going with it, and if not we incorporate more feedback and see what changes we can make to make the experience better for everyone,” said Bates.