High school cancels exams in light of student feedback

First semester exams have been cancelled for the current school year as a result of the high stress level amongst the student body that has come with hybrid and distance learning.

Principal Kristin Robbins communicated this news to parents in an email sent Thursday, Dec. 3 that detailed the concerns of the district regarding students’ mental health. This decision was made Monday, Nov. 30 by Robbins and Assistant Principal Craig McMillen with support from the department heads in the high school, Robbins explained.

This decision was based on student feedback provided in survey responses and emails to administration in reference to mental health, as well as the concerns of counselors and teachers reported in the weeks leading up to the final decision, Robbins said.

“It would be really easy to plow ahead and do what we have always done, but this year hasn’t been a year of doing what we have always done,” she added. “I would have a hard time…giving finals.”

Robbins said that in addition to the feedback from students, the return to full distance learning and the stress already associated with exams was too much to put on the students. These components were the ultimate factors that resulted in the cancellation of exams, Robbins explained.

“We had some conversations and just really thought…‘What are the things that we can control to make it better for kids?’” she said. “The faculty recognize the stressors and want to be a part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

Social studies teacher David O’Reilly agreed with the decision not only because it will benefit students by lowering stress levels, but also because he can now go more in depth in his curriculum, despite the loss of a cumulative test.

“What may seem like an issue is an opportunity, you just have to switch your perspective and switch gears,” he said.

He explained that he did not expect the decision to be made, but the extra week he is getting in his classes will now allow him to plan more creative activities for his students that he could not have done if exams had remained scheduled. 

“Teaching in general requires teachers to be resilient and very effective and efficient problem solvers,” O’Reilly said. “I just saw it as another part of the job.”

Senior Annika Stevens said that this decision to cancel the semester exams makes sense. She said the fact that exams were cancelled last spring should have been an indicator of a similar decision by the district this semester.

“Last semester we had a lot less work and exams were cancelled,” Stevens explained. “This semester we had a lot more work and a lot more stress, so to me it doesn’t make sense why they wouldn’t cancel exams.”

As a senior, Stevens explained that she has had a heavy workload this semester, so this cancellation will relieve a lot of stress in the final weeks before winter break.

“With college applications, Capstone,and exams, I would have had many sleepless nights,” she added.

Another student who believes that this decision was the correct response to the stressful situation is sophomore Josiah Old. He explained that the current learning model makes it difficult for students to comprehend every aspect of the curriculum, so exams would have had a negative impact on many students’ grades.

“It’s just so easy to get distracted when you’re in a Zoom, there’s key parts of instruction that you’re going to miss,” Old said.

Despite the many considerations that went into making the decision to cancel exams, Robbins explained that the students’ mental and emotional health is more important than exams because it cannot be overshadowed by the chaos of navigating distance learning.

“At the end of the day, you have to make a decision that’s in the best interest of the kids, period,” Robbins said.