Test and homework policies promote less stress

Days will be ‘more manageable,’ student says


Madera Longstreet-Lipson, On Campus Editor

With several tests on the same day, little warning on upcoming assignments and assessments, and inconsistent amounts of homework, Upper Schoolers could get three hours of sleep one night and twelve hours the next in previous years, Mohammad Abdallah ’23 said.

“There were some days I’d have maybe two or three tests and a project due, and another day I’d have a chill, watch-a-movie day,” he said. Faculty noticed this inconsistency, too. In a survey given to faculty and the administration to review the 2020-21 school year, the opportunity for reflection spurred responses about the impact of stress and homework.

Faculty and the administration noted through personal observations and various conversations with students that student stress levels were especially high last year due to the pandemic and the transition to remote learning.

As a result, the school formed a Homework Subcommittee, made up of faculty from the Math and Computer Science, English, History and Social Sciences, World Languages, and Science departments and Upper School (US) Learning Specialist Angela Tabb. The group met four times for a total of six hours to explore and suggest solutions for the work imbalance and student stress through examining the homework and test policies.

“It was an amazing committee to work with because everyone kept an open mind and listened really well,” Subcommittee Member and US Math and Computer Science Teacher Mark Fidler said. “We also recognized that we wanted to make some changes but not make them so dramatic that teachers have to reinvent the wheel and what they’re doing.”

Each block will have one extended, 65-minute meeting per week, which will be the class’s “priority block” for major assessments. Subcommittee Chair and US Math and Computer Science Teacher Meena Kaur described a major assessment as a summative assessment on larger amounts of material rather than a small check in. At least one block will have its extended meeting each weekday.

Teachers may also use designated, 45-minute “secondary blocks” as an alternate testing option as long as their students don’t already have two major, priority-block assessments that day. Each block will have one secondary block per week. Students will have access to the testing schedules—likely from teachers or advisors, Ms. Kaur said—and are encouraged to communicate with their teachers if any conflicts or work overloads arise.

Additionally, the committee set a 30 and 45 minute homework limit for underclassmen and upperclassmen, respectively, with exceptions for Advanced Placement classes or mixed level courses, for example. Teachers are expected to outline their homework policies at the start of the year and post all homework assignments on PowerSchool at least 48 hours in advance so that students can find all homework in one place. The new policies also recommend teachers give one major assessment per week and advise against major assessments on days following a no- homework, test, project, or quiz day.

The committee hopes that students can now manage their work and time more easily, Ms. Kaur said.

“The primary goal was to give students a little bit more ownership of their own learning,” she said. “We feel like open communication is best.”

While the testing schedule aims to space out major assessments for students, Ms. Kaur said, exceptions may be necessary when a teacher has multiple sections of the same course so that the sections stay aligned.

“Teachers are invited to check in with students,” Ms. Kaur said. “Students should feel like they have an option if they’re getting overwhelmed.”

Lena Ishii ’25 appreciates this testing schedule, she said.

“Being a freshman, it’s hard to know how to use your time well, especially when assessments are around the same time,” she said. “With this new schedule, I think the students will be able to do better because the preparation for the assessments will be more spread out.”

Grace Fantozzi ’23 said the new homework policy, if properly enforced, will help her manage homework and get more sleep.

“This new policy has the potential to make the workload given to students every day a lot more manageable, which could have a positive impact on students’ mental health and so much more,” she said.

Subcommittee Member and US History Teacher Steele Sternberg said he hopes the new policies will align student and teacher perspectives but acknowledged that they are bound to continue evolving.

“All these changes have been hashed out based on a summer’s worth of work and thought, which is not to say that we haven’t put thought in, but it likely means you aren’t seeing the final form next year,” he said. “These are sort of like the rough drafts of what will become the real, long-term policies.”