DEERFIELD/HIGHLAND PARK – This time next year, students at Highland Park and Deerfield High Schools will be cramming for finals. It will be the first time Township High School District 113 will administer final exams before winter break.
“By scheduling final exams before winter break, we hope to reduce some of the stress and anxiety our students experience,” said Christine Gonzales, director of communications and instructional technology. “Students reported moderate to high levels of stress with final exams occurring after winter break. Additionally, 73 percent of students reported that the stress they feel over winter break was related to school work. ”
In May 2016 the district formed the Calendar Committee, comprising stakeholders from DHS and HPHS and from D-112, D-109 and D-106. The surveys were administered to students, parents/guardians and staff from both high schools in October 2016.
Gonzales said students, parents/guardians and staff from HPHS and DHS were surveyed by the Calendar Committee.The Calendar Committee also researched other nearby school districts. It compared the winter break final exam schedules of area schools:
- D-207 Maine: December 20-22
- D-219 Niles: December 21-23
- D-128 Libertyville: December 20-22
- D-125 Stevenson: December 14-16
- D-115 Lake Forest: January 10-13
- D-225 Glenbrook: January 17-19
- D-220 Barrington: December 16-22
The Calendar Committee analyzed the survey results in November and December 2016. Here are some of the results:
- Virtually all parent/guardian responses were from current D-113 parents. There is equal distribution of responses between DHS and HPHS families. The same is true of both staffs.
- 85 percent of students report completing homework over winter break. 74 percent report this causes moderate to significant stress. Only 18 percent of teachers report assigning homework over winter break.
- 72 percent of students report spending time preparing for finals over winter break. 64 percent report this causes moderate to severe stress. Approximately 75 percent of staff report preparing for finals over winter break. Approximately 48 percent report this causes moderate to significant stress.
- Majority of students, parents/guardians and staff believe administering finals before winter break would have a positive impact upon students.
- Nearly 70 percent of parents/guardians believe it is very important for District 113 and sending districts to have common dates for Winter and Spring Break.
A second calendar survey was created and administered to the three stakeholder groups in January 2017. Participants were asked to choose from three calendar options. The first calendar was the only option to offer final exams after winter break and was the least favored.
There were two final calendar options in the third calendar survey. Calendar 1, offered finals before winter break and was an unbalanced semester because it covered fewer calendar days in one semester than the other. Though Calendar 2 also offered finals before winter break, the balanced semester continued with additional first semester teaching days after winter break.
Both calendars had the same start date of August 20 and same end date, June 7.
Stakeholder feedback led to the creation of the Unbalanced Semester Calendar, as it is the only calendar to meet both demands of a later August start and finals before winter break.
Although the Unbalanced Semester Calendar is the most favored, it will have a greater impact at DHS concerning winter concerts and School Chest. Sender districts will work to closely align with D-113 winter and spring vacations, as well as start/end dates.
How will this shift in exam dates affect the teachers’ curriculum?
“Moving exams prior to winter break and having unbalanced semesters has little to no impact on year-long classes,” said Gonzales. “Teachers of semester long courses are determining how to adjust curriculum to accommodate a shorter first semester and longer second semester.”
Gonzales added that the final exam schedule for fall 2018-19 is not yet available.