Snow and winter exams fall on US campus

Culminating assessments return for all subjects


Anjali Reddy, Off Campus Editor

Huddled together in the Nicholas Athletic Center the week leading up to the 2019-20 school year winter break, students practiced deep breathing, reviewed months’ worth of information, and exchanged good luck. This was moments before freshmen, sophomores, and juniors took one of four midterm exams: English, math, science, and history and social sciences.

This year, students will return to this practice after two years on hold due to the pandemic, with the addition of a world languages exam, which had used projects instead of winter exams.

The school canceled spring exams in the 2019-20 school year and winter exams in the 2020-21 school year, allowing teachers to administer smaller culminating assessments and projects. In the spring of the 2020-21 school year, the math exam returned for some classes while others opted for a project.

This summer, an exam subcommittee led by History and Social Sciences Department Head Susan Glazer discussed exam possibilities and presented its recommendations to Upper School (US) Director Geoff Theobald and later to the US faculty. Using feedback from conversations between department members and heads, the school chose to hold winter exams and spring projects for most classes.

“Exams serve a purpose as a mid-year check-in to give teachers a sense of how students are mastering skills and content and to help teachers identify areas of growth,” Ms. Glazer said. “Exams are another way that teachers can help students grow as learners.”

The history and social sciences, math, English, science, and world languages exams will take place in that order between Monday, December 13, and Thursday, December 16, leaving Friday for make-up exams. Except for Geometry Honors and World Language classes levels 3, 3 Honors, and 4, every non-senior class will have a midterm exam.

With five exams and four testing days, math and English exams will happen on Tuesday. Except for the math exam, which will span 90 minutes, all exams will last two hours.

Reserved for review, the final two class periods before exam week will not introduce new material or have any assessments. On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday afternoons of exam week, teachers will hold review sessions for exams on the following day.

The history and social sciences department will hold their exams on Monday, December 13. With many new history and social science teachers, Ms. Glazer said, the department further engaged in exam discussions.

“This year we have been extra intentional in discussing the format of the exam, the weighting of each section, where we want to be on the same page, and where we want some freedom for a teacher to develop their own material.”

The math exam at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, December 14, will assess the applications of class skills in compilation. For Geometry Honors, a take-home quest will replace the traditional midterm exam because of the cumulative nature of the course at the beginning of the year. The class will instead hold an exam in the spring.

US Math and Computer Science Department Head Chip Rollinson said exam discussions unite teaching methods and course values.

“In classes where multiple teachers teach a course, the teachers will write the exam together, and it gets them talking about the course,” he said. “In writing the exam and discussing the exam, there’s a lot of good discussion around what’s important in this course.”

The English exam at 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, December 14, will assess students on their writing and analytical skills in a variety of short and extended response questions. In writing the exams for her English 10 sections and her Aliens junior elective, English Teacher Sharon Krauss said, she hoped her questions prompted her students to think beyond the class material.

“I hope students will have an ‘aha’ moment and realize, ‘Oh, these two things are related.’ Perhaps, in writing about two or three texts, they will make connections in that moment that are illuminating and fulfilling for them.”

The science exam on December 15 hopes to provide students “with the opportunity to demonstrate their learning of the material and skills covered in their particular science class this trimester,” Science Teacher Melissa Courtemanche said.

The world languages exam will test speaking and listening skills during the week of December 6. During the Thursday, December 16 exam slot, the exam will assess writing skills.

World languages exams will ensure students have the basic skills necessary to continue their language study; this includes grammar and vocabulary, as well as a speaking component, World Languages Department Head James Sennette said. While he recognizes the benefits of the exams, Mr. Sennette said, the world languages department typically prefers project-based learning.

“Because our department is so focused on being able to comprehend and use the language in real-life and meaningful ways, I think projects better demonstrate the need for the ability to contextualize and analyze,” Mr. Sennette said. “You’re not going to go to Spain or Russia and have someone on the street ask you to write answers to an exam.”

Elizabeth Knox ’23, who experienced an exam week in her freshman year, said underclassmen, most of whom have never had an exam experience, should focus on the controllable.

“Students get swept up in grades, studying, and stress about tests, but I feel like it’s unnecessary. If you prepare and do as well as you can, that’s the best you can do.”

Even though exam decisions are finalized for this year, Mr. Theobald said, the discussion about the value and the format of exams and other assessments will be ongoing.

“It is not just a matter of ‘should we have exams?’ We need to continually discuss the meaning and importance of all of our assessments, including from the point of view of the students’ overall workload and also [discuss] how the teachers can help foster the highest amount of student learning and growth.”