Changes to finals, semester timing require teachers to adapt

Teachers are adjusting well to finals before Winter Break



Next year’s schedule will also include finals before winter break and a shorter first semester

New Trier has traditionally held first semester finals after winter break, however, the schedule was changed to do finals testing before the break for the 2022-23 school year. To accommodate this change, teachers found themselves changing their own curriculums and plans for first semester finals with varying difficulties.

Garrett Forbes, a chemistry teacher and sophomore advisor, was able to alter his finals materials without sacrificing the quality of content covered in his classes.

“It wasn’t a change for us in terms of order, but [the semester] just ended earlier,” he said. “For us, the final exams we traditionally had about another two or three weeks of material in them, so we just had to go through some of the preparation materials and the final exam itself to take certain questions and sections out.”

Social studies teacher and senior advisor Benjamin Yang similarly shortened the amount of content he covered first semester for his history classes, concluding the semester with an assigned project.

“It wasn’t really a big issue, since units could be adjusted or shifted from one semester to the next,” he said.

However, Yang also teaches AP Economics, a class that covers the curriculum of both Advanced Placement Microeconomics (micro) and Macroeconomics (macro), typically in separate semesters. He described the uneven semesters as “an unfortunate situation” for AP Economics and single-semester classes.

“We typically cover microeconomics in the first semester, and conclude with a final exam on all of micro. Second semester is devoted to macro. With the uneven semesters, I had to extend micro into the second semester, which created an awkward ‘final exam’ in micro a few weeks into the second semester. This also created issues for semester courses, which I don’t currently teach, who had to just drop units from their first semester curriculum.”

Math Department Chair Mary Lappan said that while many math courses had to cut units, others re-ordered their curriculums to include units for the first semester they customarily would cover during second semester.

“Some courses re-ordered units of material because of the transition to the block schedule and again this year with the anchor days, so some courses included some material on this year’s first semester exam that may have previously been included in second semester.”

In terms of the exams themselves, Lappan said the rewriting process of finals exams mirrored the processes of past years, and therefore was not a challenge.

“Final exams have been re-written almost every year to accommodate curricular changes, changes in technology, and the instructional changes that have resulted from the pandemic and the change to the block schedule,” she said. “Exams were probably finalized later in the semester than usual because of all of the changes from the last three years, but the course committee process of designing final exams has been similar to previous years.”

English teacher Leslie Birdwell assigned a “capstone project” for the majority of her classes. The projects, which involved a reading and writing portion through the use of a short story and a timed reflective essay, were adjusted to accommodate the content of the specific class. 

Referencing her Literature and Psychology class, Birdwell said, “We did end up dispensing with the short story, and spent more time finishing up and talking through the themes and ideas of a novel, and that ended up being a final essay that was not timed, but drafted.”

She additionally noted that she had to make changes to the way she accessed final projects and essays.

“We adjusted our own expectations of what students would be able to accomplish in timed writing, when they had two weeks less of instructional time.”

Despite the smaller amount of instructional time in the semester, both Birdwell and Forbes agreed that students continued to perform strongly on their final assessments.

Forbes said, “I felt like [the students’] performance on the test was better. They were more comfortable and confident without having a break in between, and [this year’s finals] was closer to the time period of when they’re actually learning the material.”

In October, the Board of Education approved the 2023-24 school year calendar to have a similar start date as the 2022-23 school year, as well as first semester finals to be held before Winter Break. 

“I liked having finals before winter break,” said Forbes. “From talking with my advisees and students, I feel that they preferred having finals before break. It gives the students a real, true break, where they wouldn’t have to study.”