Meeting in the (Mid)dle

     Midterm week has always been a topic of stress for students at Oyster River High School (ORHS). Some think midterms are a good way to prepare students for later education, and some argue that we should get rid of them altogether. The one thing no one saw coming was this year’s midterm schedule. 

Midterms at ORHS have typically been done with two 90-minute classes per day, with a half hour between and an afternoon work session for students with missing work. The schedule was changed this year, so that there are three to four one-hour classes per day, with a half hour lunch between the second and third block, and three afternoon work sessions for students with missing work (students without missing work are dismissed early). The midterm week will start off following the blue day schedule, and end with two white days. What I’ve found is that most students and teachers throughout the school weren’t happy to see this new schedule. 

In the past couple weeks, I’ve heard a lot of talk in my classes about the new midterm schedule, so I’ve been asking students and teachers for their thoughts. Many, including Will Blandini (‘24), are stressed about how each class is broken up into two one-hour blocks. “The first two days of the midterm week, I’m literally gonna be doing nothing because neither of my classes have midterms and I also have a free period that day, so I’m just gonna be sitting for two days straight doing absolutely nothing. Then I’m gonna be slammed with so much more work the next days because my two other days are jam packed with all my hard classes.” 

I’ve also heard many students complain about the amount of studying they’ll have to do, because they’ll have four classes per day. Tyler Rinko (‘23) voiced some of this concern. “As a student, a lot of my thoughts circulate around, ‘okay, how am I going to study for four classes, two days straight, and then get up and do that again for the next two days.”  

     I didn’t find many students who had a positive opinion about the schedule, but there were a few looking on the bright side. Ben Kelley (‘23), liked the idea of having each class split into two separate periods. “That does open up for two parts of a test, so you can split it up and study one part of the subject [one day] and the other for the next [day].” 

     This is the format many teachers are using for their tests. Lisa Hallbach, the head of the math department, is one of these teachers. “For example, in precalculus I have [an arithmetic calculator section] one day, […] and then on the second day they have the scientific or graphing calculator section, so that way [students] kind of know what type of questions will be asked each day.” 

     I found that the teachers who are the most concerned about the split period are the teachers in neither the math nor science departments. Nick Ricciardi, the culinary teacher, has always used the midterm block to have his students open a restaurant in his classroom. Usually this takes around 45 minutes to prepare the food, and the rest of the exam period to present it. Now Ricciardi has to find a way to break that into two blocks, a day apart. 

     I’m also very stressed about the split blocks, and I think it’s going to be hard to focus. Talia Banafato (‘24), showed the same concern. “I think that having it two separate days, if you did study, does mess up your concentration, and having all of them back to back, especially having four in a row, even if they’re shorter periods, that’s still a lot to do in one day.” 

     I was also very concerned that there would only be five minutes between each block. I talked to Rebecca Noe, the principle of ORHS, and found out that luckily there will be a break between second and third period. “What we did do is we moved that half hour break, so you don’t have more than two [exams] at a time right after each other.” 

     When I first saw the midterm schedule, I wondered, ‘where did this come from, and how it was decided?’ Rinko had the same question. “There seems to be a lack of support for it from teachers and students, so there’s a lot of questioning of, what was the decision process behind going ahead with this new schedule?”  

     I was curious, so I asked Noe. She explained how the decision was made since only the math and science departments have traditional exams, so she tried to make a schedule that would work for all the classes. “Something we were thinking about too is how can we make sure the two departments giving traditional tests are able to give those in a way that kids are really showing what they know, but also accommodating all these other things that people actually do with that timeframe.”  

     I was also curious about the decision to have two blue days in a row then two white days. According to Noe, the schedule is like this so that if someone is having a bad day on one day, it won’t ruin their entire exam and they can show their knowledge over a period of days. Personally, I would rather have a bad day ruin two of my tests, rather than messing up four of them. 

     I do understand how splitting up the exam into two periods could take pressure off students, but I’m still stressed about having two hours of each class rather than 90 minutes. This made me wonder how the teachers feel. 

     I went around asking teachers from different departments how they felt about the change and how they are changing their exam or project because of the change. Hallbach was mainly concerned for students “I think it’s really challenging for students to have to focus on four courses that are doing end of semester or mid-year exams, presentations, or projects [in one day].” 

I asked Jim Thibault, a science teacher at ORHS, if he liked anything about this schedule, and he said the blue-blue white-white idea was not a bad one. “This way, students can kind of say ‘hey, for two days I only need to worry about these [three or four] classes and I can shift.’ So I think that was actually a very good plan.” 

Thibault liked last year’s midterm schedule, but said he’s willing to adapt to this new model. He told me he’s likely going to use the extra time to get his AP classes caught up, and give his normal classes a test one day and a lab the other. 

Ricciardi told me about his first thoughts on the schedule. “I think ultimately my initial reaction was like ‘agh,’ but at this point it is what it is and I gotta shift gears and make it the best that we can.” 

After talking to so many students and teachers, I realized how much pressure this schedule puts on everyone. I then wondered how much feedback was considered. I asked Noe if she had asked any students what they thought, and she told me no. She said she didn’t because this is nothing like students have experienced before. “For this one we went off of what teachers were doing in past midterms.” 

This seemed weird to me because I’m fairly sure students have experienced midterms before and know what they’re like. Student feedback could’ve helped the schedule be more of a compromise.  

Luckily, Noe is interested to hear what students think. “I am interested in feedback of staff and students and how did this work? Was it used the way we all thought it was going to be used? And how was that time, how was it having it over two days?” 

     I was curious if students and teachers had any suggestions for how the schedule could look in future years, so I asked around. Banafato noted that midterms will always be stressful, but they can be improved. “Either way, people are going to be unhappy, but at least for me, and from what I’ve heard from other people, last year had a better response.”  

     Ricciardi thought midterms should be adjusted for each class, so if a class needed two hours for a midterm they could, and if a class only needed half an hour, that’s all they would use. “I think we need to find ways to help kids apply knowledge instead of just taking tests on that knowledge. […] I think the schedule should provide an atmosphere that opens up for the most real world, experiential, hands on approach to showing your knowledge.” 

Thibault brought up an interesting point about how midterms prepare students for college. “Since the great majority [of ORHS students] percentage wise do go into college, […] I think mimicking what they’re going to see in college, in my opinion, is better.” 

     I hadn’t thought about that angle, and personally it makes a lot of sense. Hallbach had the same idea as Thibault. “I know Oyster River Has a significant proportion of the population that goes to four-year colleges, somewhere in the 80% range. I do think that midterms and finals are important to help students prepare for four-year colleges, where you’re going to have courses that will have fewer small assessments and more big-ticket items.” 

Midterms are next week, and at this point there’s nothing we can do to change the schedule. I’m willing to see how it goes, but many other students and I are already much more stressed about midterms than last year, and teachers have been scrambling to pull together their exams. Even after talking to Noe, I’m still not sure why the schedule was changed in the first place. I liked Rinko’s output on the whole thing: “I think I’d go by ‘if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.’”

– Micah Bessette