WA remains split in reception of finals cancellation for 2021-2022 school year

February 4, 2022

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WA deals with aftermath of girls’ basketball incident.

Following Westford Academy administration’s decision to cancel finals, the WA community remains split in its reception of this choice. Coupled with the cancellation of midterms earlier this month, students and their families have mixed feelings about student preparation for college-level exams and experiences. 

Overall, both semester exams were canceled in light of an increase in absences in the student, faculty, and administrative body. Even though finals are canceled, teachers are still allowed to administer cumulative assessments during the finals week, but these scores will not account for 6% of a student’s final grade like a formal exam. The 6% of student grades that finals traditionally contribute to will now be redistributed to third and fourth quarter grades.

While Principal James Antonelli agrees that the cancellation of a final and midterm exam may impede students’ academic preparation for beyond high school, Antonelli believes that the cancellation accomplishes the district’s goal of providing an equitable learning environment while taking into consideration any external stressors students and faculty may be facing due to the pandemic. 

“All the Dual County League principals, the organization that we are a part of, agreed that we were going to get rid of exams based on a whole variety of things. We wanted to take into account the social emotional well being of kids, student absenteeism, and teacher absenteeism. So now you have teachers with five classes being out, kids being out and not being able to learn, and teacher and kids having to communicate and work things out together. We just didn’t think finals would be fair to anyone,” Antonelli said. 

For some faculty members such as math teacher Lisa Gartner, the cancellation of semester exams means that students and teachers will have extra time to catch-up on assignments and lessons that need to be planned, especially in Advanced Placement courses. Not only will this alleviate stress for students and faculty alike, but with the option for teachers to give cumulative assessments, students can still use these experiences to prepare for college and careers. 

“Many students needed to focus on catching up and I’m sure the thought of taking a midterm or final on top of that was daunting. Being an AP teacher, I am always happy to have additional instructional days especially since I have no idea how many days will be lost due to winter weather. Teachers still have the option of giving a cumulative test which will help students be prepared for the future,” Gartner said.  

Echoing this idea, some such as sophomore Srunu Bagavathula believe that the thought of not having to worry about semester exams as a whole for this school year will help many students like her get back on track with their academics. Especially since teachers can still give cumulative assessments, Bagavathula believes that if students don’t need to worry about studying for finals, they can have more time to balance their social-emotional well-being with school commitments. 

“It’s great that we don’t have finals to consider and worry about. Although we will have tests and projects to consider for the end of the year, it won’t necessarily be as big as a final,” Bagavathula said. 

However, a major concern among students and family members is whether or not students, especially current freshman and sophomores, will be prepared for final exams in their upperclassman years in high school with no experience with them as underclassmen. 

“For sophomores, we’ve never experienced any midterms or finals at all whatsoever. With junior year already being hard normally, we wouldn’t be as ready. People might be glad, but I still feel like we should at least have some experience with heavier weighted exams,” sophomore Angel Wang said.  

Voicing a similar concern, parents on the Westford Moms connection have voiced similar opinions that their children may not be able to compete with students from other schools who have had semester exams when they are put on the same playing field in college. 

One WA alumnus from the Class of 2021, Izzy Fantini, cited that the hardest part of acclimating to college was getting back into the routine of taking midterm and final exams. 

“I’m a freshman in college and getting used to midterms and finals again was absolutely horrendous. I didn’t know where to start with studying or asking for help, and it was overwhelming because it seemed like everyone else had things figured out,” Fantini said. 

While Antonelli and other administration members understand such concerns, Antonelli also cites personal anecdotes of how college assessments are making a shift toward non-traditional, highschool-assessment methods. He believes that these will also make it easier for students to adapt to higher-learning opportunities, even if students have not had many experiences in high school with semester exams. 

“When my oldest went to college at Worcester State, tests were more paper and pencil, and you’d only get big assessments. But now, colleges have really shifted to a variety of assessments that are similar to what we’re doing here, like having papers, projects, and presentations,” Antonelli said. 

At some institutions such as Indiana University at Bloomington, to where four of WA’s Class of 2021 students committed, there are centers for innovative teaching and learning that encourage professors to give students more choice in how they want to learn and demonstrate their knowledge. For example, IUB’s Professor Ben Mortz assesses his students’ understanding of concepts in his cognitive psychology course by asking them to produce 60-second public service announcements about the concepts instead of taking traditional paper and pen exams. 

“In designing assessments or assignments for a course, instructors often think of exams or term papers, but there are many other types of assessments that may be appropriate for your course. “If you are willing to think creatively about assignments that go beyond traditional exams or research papers, you may be able to design assignments that are more accurate reflections of the kind of thinking and problem-solving you want your students to engage in. In addition, non-traditional assignments can boost students’ motivation,” IUB’s Centers for Innovative Teaching and Learning page said. 

In addition, the administration is working to create a concrete plan for how WA will support its students in the transition from high school to college and beyond. At the teacher-level, Antonelli hopes to work with faculty to mandate efforts such as study guides and other teacher-student connection opportunities. With such efforts still being actively discussed, Antonelli hopes that the administration will be able to release details shortly. 

“We’ll take that gradual approach to help teachers coach the students and let them know how to prepare for big tests, such as by creating study guides, opportunities for students to connect, or discussions amongst other efforts,” Antonelli said. 

During the would-be finals week this year, Antonelli foresees changes in the 5-drop-2 schedule to accommodate teachers who wish to give cumulative exams or projects, and to also help foster student-teacher connections with opportunities like FLEX blocks. Having received positive feedback regarding these one-hour-blocks, Antonelli hopes to work with administrators to develop the most conducive end-of-year schedule. 

“We think there’s an opportunity at the end of the school year to be creative with the schedule and still provide you with an end-of-year assessment that’s going to be challenging, but not quite a final exam. It probably will not be a 90-minute-exam, but it’ll be challenging and prepare you for the next level,” Antonelli said.

Especially with cumulative, end-of-year projects actively taking place, such as the senior capstone projects, Antonelli believes that WA is on track to take semester exams next year. If COVID-19 ameliorates and other administrative ideas go as planned, these exams will be weighted at 6% of a student’s grade, especially since many students have had limited exposure to heavy-weight-exams. 

Although finals have been canceled for 2021-2022, administration is working toward normalcy in exam routines in upcoming years while also trying to balance the WA community’s social-emotional health. 

“College preparation is a concern. However, we are more concerned about the current social and emotional well being of our students, and the stress level is very high for students and staff. “My job is to set the table so that you guys get a good experience here with the best faculty that’s going to take you to the next level,” Antonelli said. 

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