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Academic Deans Office Calls for “Term End Experiences” In Place of Traditional Exams Through New Assessment Schedule
Sabrina Ticer-Wurr '21 and Jean Chun '22 Associate Editors
November 8, 2019

As classes begin to wind down and we approach the end of the term, campus has been buzzing with talk of a different format for final exams.

Though it has yet to occur, students and teachers alike have expressed a wide range of opinions.

During the fall and winter, exams will begin on the last Monday of the term and last until Friday at the end of the week.

Each day will consist of two extended 2-hour class periods which teachers are able to utilize to their preference.

Over the course of the week, the order of the exams will not correlate to the chronological order of a student’s typical class day, but, rather, will follow a pre-scheduled order.

Credit: Rosa Sun

The sequence of the exams is determined by the Curriculum Committee, which consists of various administrators, department chairs, and the Academic Dean.

This order was determined according to the number of students enrolled in each period in an attempt to maximize the chances of a student having a free period.

This exam schedule is intended to alleviate the pressure as well.

As Academic Dean Ivory Hills said, “It’s quite intentional. Periods two, four, and five have the most number of students, but they’re on separate  exam days.”

The format is a change from last year’s, which only tested three departments in a given term.

The exams were administered over the course of three days, with each day having the assessments of a different department. While the schedule is a shift, Dr. Hills points out that it merely reflects the practices that already exist at peer schools.

“Other boarding schools have had both exams in all classes in every term and have done it over the course of only three days,” Dr. Hills said.

In creating the new schedule, Dr. Hills cited the difficulty of this format as a reason for the change.

With the old schedule, Dr. Hills said,“If I taught four different classes, my four different sections could be in different parts of the building or different parts of campus.”

The new format responds to this challenge in its ability for teachers to be present in proctoring all of their exams. “If there was something about my assessment that required me as a teacher to be present, it could be impossible to do it,” he said.

Being a preparatory school, another motive for the adjustment was the belief that the new schedule will prepare Deerfield students better for college.

In college, the committee found, less emphasis is placed on written exams in favor of assessments through a wider variety of mediums.

With a two-hour period and the removed constraint of a written exam, the configuration of an end of term assignment will take on different forms depending on the class.

Teachers may assign presentations, extended labs, oral exams, graded discussions, or simply conduct an extended version of a typical class. In providing this option, the committee aimed to provide more flexibility. As an example, Dr. Hills said, “You can’t do dissection in the gym.”

Given the flexible nature of structures for possible exams, the Academic Dean decided to alter the terminology associated with exams. As listed in the almanac, the assignments are now referred to as part of the “term-end experience,” abandoning specific language referring to exams that previously existed in the almanac. Dr. Hills said, “Exam has a certain sort of connotation that we wanted to eliminate. Instead, assessment is more inclusive and allows for more times of culminating experiences.”

Though the schedule of the end-of-term is new, the hope is that it will benefit the experiences of teachers and students. “A hope of mine, a design principle, is to not stress out students any more than they would be otherwise,” said Dr. Hills.

In considering the effects of the new schedule, the Academic Dean analyzed the schedules of a random sample of students and found that a majority would not only have a day free but also they would be assessed in ways previously impossible.

However, some teachers and students are more critical. Despite the designed intention, “The proposed new exam week schedule could produce a net increase in stress for students,” Math Teacher Sean Keller ‘86 said.

Additionally, Mr. Keller sees a disadvantage for teachers, saying, “We did not want to lose teaching days for more exam days. We employed a schedule many years ago in which every discipline gave an end-of-term exam every trimester, but we modified that schedule to gain back some teaching days. Now we are losing those teaching days that we had gained.”

With each assessment occurring according to class period instead of department, some assessments are given several times over the course of a week. This sequence has raised concern amongst some teachers regarding academic integrity.

However, as Dr. Hills noted it is no different than the way assessments are administered the rest of the school year. “We have the Wednesday-Thursday split in which some assessments are given during periods 1-3 and others are given for periods 4-7. We also have sit-down lunch which splits up periods 4 and 5. Students chat during sitdown lunch,” he said.

As of now there is no policy requiring teachers to write different versions of exams. While some teachers are planning to do so, for exams that may be oral or project-based, there is little need for concern. In the end, as Dr. Hills said, “There is a system of trust.”

Talia Rajesekar ‘21 said, “My only fear is that since we can have a final assessment in every class and, if the form of assessment is completely up to the teacher, there is a possibility that we could have more than 3 written final exams at the end of a single term.”

Maddie Poole ‘21 added, “In the long run, even if it’s less cumulative so it’s slightly easier, there’s more stress around it. I’m also concerned about not having enough time to study because there are two exams in one day,” she said.

When asked about the potential future of the exam schedules Dr. Hills said,  “I don’t think anything is ever permanent,” he said. “In my mind, it would last a minimum of two years. If we have evidence and reason to change again, I’m fine with that- whatever is best for students.”

As the end of the term approaches, the designed schedule will come to fruition as it becomes implemented for the very first time.

As Rajesekar put it, “I don’t want to hate on this new schedule before it’s been tried — it was implemented for a reason, let’s see how it goes!”

Others have disagreed by saying, “Now it is going to be two times as much stress for the seniors than before. It seems well-intentioned, but I would like to see how it plays out in practice.”

Students can view the new schedule, as well as the official notes on the almanac tab of the academic dean. Additionally, students are welcome to contact the Academic Dean’s office with further questions and feedback once the exams take place.