The Tower (Princeton, New Jersey)
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Bedrooms are lit up by the light shining from the Quizlet on the computer screen. Teachers bear flurries of packets and study guides to prepare for the two-hour event that will test a year’s worth of material. Flashcards. Quizlets. More flashcards. And more Quizlets. The weather outside sure is frightful, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the expressions of sleep-deprived students roaming the halls.
While talk on removing midterms seems to have lasted longer than any Princeton High schooler can remember, several schools in New Jersey, notably West Windsor-Plainsboro High Schools North and South, have already taken action to abolish these dreaded tests. Glen Ridge High School has also reformed midterms by implementing quarterly test days, replacing a week of midterms with exams that assess students’ progress in each class four times a year.
With the PARCC test now in place and consuming a fair amount of school days, the week of preparation that leads to midterms, as well as the actual midterm week, has contributed to PHS students’ spending large amounts of time on testing, reviewing past material rather than learning new material. Students argue that midterms don’t reflect how well a high schooler understands concepts; rather, they assess a student’s memory. Yet in most classes, these exams account for up to 20 percent of the final grade. The stress caused by preparing for this week of testing leads to health issues as well. If PHS is invested in ensuring that students are maintaining a healthy balance between living to learn and loving to learn—and especially after recently implementing the “no homework weekends,” the existing priority given to midterms undermines the administration’s commitment to this effort.
However, the opposition argues that removing all these exam days may essentially harm students’ success in the long run. Some teachers advocate for the upholding of midterms as they argue that the majority of self-inflicted and external stress on students comes from the all-consuming race to get into a top college. Removing midterms might even handicap students once they eventually arrive in college by not preparing them for the level of academic discipline. Yet midterms, for many students, are a period that is spent simply cramming as opposed to retaining information. According to Kenneth Wesson, an educational consultant who speaks throughout the world on the neuroscience of learning, cramming instills the wrong idea into students by forcing them to commit concepts to short-term memory that are meant for the long term.
The debate on whether or not to keep midterms extends to a broader societal debate about protecting high school as an environment where students can learn for the sake of learning. As a high school junior who’s learned through mistakes with handling midterms, I feel that we should strive to look at learning as a lifelong marathon that requires stamina and sustained passion for knowledge, rather than as a 400 meter sprint around the track. And instead of this not-so-wonderful-time-of-the-year, PHS should join the movement of schools working to find more holistic approaches toward developing thoughtful individuals committed to learning, and not cramming.
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