Due to a consensus between students and teachers at a student faculty board meeting last year about the stress caused by "testing weeks", Friends Academy has gotten rid of the policy, which designated certain weeks as the only allowable time for certain subjects to test. The reasons behind this decision were varied, but the overall logic was that though testing weeks were created to prevent overlap between tests and provide students and teachers with a more spread out and manageable testing schedule, the assigned weeks were forcing teachers to give tests just because it was their week, and impeding them from giving tests where they made sense in the curriculum.
The handbook for this year describes the new testing policy: “This year will be following a system where in lieu of a testing calendar, teachers will assign due dates and test dates at times in units when it is logical. Students will have a limit of 2 major assessments on a day…”. In both meetings and this statement in the handbook, the motivation to get rid of the testing weeks was to prevent “tests for the sake of tests", a problem that students voiced their concern for.
As it is early on in the year, the effects of this change have not been very observable. In fact, many students voiced their lack of knowledge about this decision. Many have observed that “the number of tests has been the same,” and that “things seem to be piling up as usual.” Despite the lack of student awareness about this change, teachers are doing their best to adhere to the new requirements and schedule their tests where they make sense, as well as where they do not conflict with too many other assessments. However, sometimes it is hard to prevent these conflicts. One student stated that he has “already had an assessment in every subject two Fridays in a row,” which according to the handbook is not within the allowable limit of “2 major assessments per day.” The rules also state that “quizzes that don’t require extensive preparation are not considered major assignments." But the amount of preparation students must do for quizzes depends on the student, and quizzes that teachers might see as easy may cause a lot of stress for students, creating the feeling of drowning under multitudes of assessments, whether they be quizzes, tests, in-class essays, or graded discussions.
A combination of parental pressure, internal pressure, teacher expectations, and comparison to the scores of other students tends to promote a lot of assessment-related anxiety. However, the handbook also states that “requirements of this system are a willingness to talk to students and listen to their concerns about what is already on their calendars; being flexible in our scheduling in order to modify assessment dates based on student feedback; and proctoring support for students who may need to take an assessment on a different day than their classmates.” Students need to realize that their anxiety should not be pushed to the side, or channeled into angry complaints, but should be the subject of discussions with teachers and administrators. Both sides should come to a consensus about an optimal system to provide intellectual stimulation and proper preparation for college assessments and standardized tests, without causing uncalled for and crippling anxiety.
Within departments, the nature and timing of testing varies, as do the responses toward the lack of testing weeks this year. The departments agreed that the testing weeks were certainly causing a lot of stress, whether it was from teachers not following the weeks, or students complaining about the timing and accumulation of tests on certain days.The science department felt that although they “had more freedom in planning their curriculum,” they have seen “no noticeable response” from students. The history department was more appreciative, noting that they had previously seen a recurring problem where they were “always rushing to fit their tests into their testing week, whether [they were] not quite done with a unit or [had] finished it long ago and [had] to go back to it to have the test." Members of the language department commented on the difference in test format in their discipline, stating that many of their tests are also listening and speaking, which are not necessarily formal assessments. So though the scheduling problem was certainly affecting them, their curriculum has always been based around informal evaluation, and the testing weeks were more of a formality. The most enthusiastic by far about the lack of testing weeks this year was the English department, who noted a “dramatic increase in the quality of in-class essays due to sufficient time to prepare students and work on skill building before assessments.”
Overall, it seems to be too early for many teachers to provide examples of an increase or decrease in productivity and student learning. However, the increase of freedom in curriculum planning, as well as more control over the timing of tests, allows teachers an increased ability to give tests where they make sense. Many teachers have taken that into account when planning their curriculum. Student response has been rather muted due to a lack of awareness about this change. However, a few students said they had noticed more attention to preparation for assessments from their teachers, as well as more sensible placement of tests. Hopefully, the coming months will bring more positive reports and increased discussion about test anxiety, how we can create an environment where testing incentivizes students to truly understand material, and allow teachers to see where their students are, instead of producing complaints, stress, and comparison.