Community expresses mixed reactions towards semesters

Marina Kazarian and Adam Frommer

As the first semester comes to a close, students and faculty have express mixed reactions, many critical, as to how effectively the new semester system has fulfilled its goals of reforming workload, scheduling, and stress levels at the school.

Out of 171 students The Record polled, the majority of students, nearly 41%, responded that they would prefer the school discontinue the semester system, with 36% in support of the current system.

The original intent in the change to the semester system was to allot more time to do things with less stress in that time frame, Upper Division Dean of Students Dr. Susan Delanty said.

While the administration hopes that students are happy with the change, the only feedback at this point in the year has been anecdotal, said Executive Director of College Counseling Canh Oxelson.

Faculty and students have had varying experiences with how the semester system is able to distribute workload across a longer period of time.

42.9% of the students polled responded that semesters have been less effective than trimesters in spreading out class material, whereas 33.5% felt that the new system created a positive improvement.

World Languages Teacher Ana Mercedes believes that the semester system has made it easier for her to space out assessments, allowing her enough grades to average and enough time to teach and review material without rushing, she said.

Brigette Kon (11) has noticed that the speed at which the material is taught has decreased and due to the switch to semesters, she said.

The semester system has also worked to prevent extracurricular schedules from coinciding with busy academic periods.

With the trimester system, speech teams had tournaments during the end of testing weeks, so students’ stress grew during already difficult weeks, Head of Upper Division Jessica Levenstein said.

Although scheduling of material has become easier for some students and teachers, Mercedes has observed that many students are more stressed, she said.

Students often email her more about grades since they have both semester grades shown on their transcripts instead of an average of all three trimester grades, Mercedes said.

Unlike semesters, trimesters made it easier to adjust to the material and have grades improve as the trimesters were averaged together, Lucas Glickman (9) said.

“You’re coming into the high school not knowing what to expect and it takes a little time to get used to it. I felt this especially in Geometry with the proofs because it is a new way of thinking,” Glickman said.

Lara Hersch (10), however, has found that the semester grading system has made it easier to track her progress in her classes.

“I like the semester system because you get to see your mid-semester grades in all of your classes and see how you are doing without having those grades appear on your transcript,” Hersch said.

For seniors, the switch to semesters allows for more meaningful grades to be sent to colleges, Hannah Long (12) said.

“There is more runway for senior provisional grades being sent to colleges,” William Golub (12) said. “Instead of grades being sent halfway into the first trimester, grades are instead submitted halfway through the first semester,” he said.

Because the trimester calendar didn’t fit the semester schedule of most colleges, many universities sent notices to seniors about missing grades, an issue that the semester system fixes, Oxelson said.

“Seniors were really stressed about feeling that they would get a bad decision because colleges didn’t have full grades from them,” he said.

In addition to alignment with college schedules, the semester system has impacted students’ testing weeks and concentration of assessments during certain weeks.

Nearly half of  the 171 students polled indicated that the semester system has increased their overall workload, while 30% responded that they experienced no change in workload from the trimester system.

Some teachers have added assessments when trying to combat students’ concern for each grade, which has adversely increased the stress of many students, Golub said.

“A promise of the semester system was that we were going to go from nine assessments during the year to eight, but instead we went from nine to ten in some classes,” Golub said.

Long noticed that instead of having a week of testing in every subject, she has about two assessments every week, allowing for a more consistent schedule, she said.

“It has been kind of difficult to be always on your game because you have assessments all the time,” she said. “With the semester system, you never really get a break.”

However, Sam Singer (10) has found that some of the natural testing weeks still exist, as there are inevitable times where teachers test, like the weeks before and after winter break, he said.

Math teacher Charles Worrall believes that having intense testing weeks sometimes teaches students important life skills, he said.

“I actually think in some ways it’s wholly appropriate to teach kids you know what you’re not always going to be able to reach the platonic ideal of preparation for every single project in your life,” Worrall said. “Time is limited.”

Both students and faculty have found that despite its challenges, the semester system has allowed less pressure and more flexibility in the classroom.

Having more of a buffer to get acquainted with classes through longer academic periods allows students to do better than they would have had with the pressure of having just one assessment, Long said.

“If I were given the option to go back to the trimester system, I would not because semesters have made everything more spaced out for me,” Pascale Zissu (10) said.

“It’s given me much more license to be creative at certain moments in my teaching in the sense that if I want to spend three or four days on something then I’m not as likely to have to worry,” Worrall said. “I’m feeling the difference, and it’s a good one.”