Final exams are back at MHS after a two year hiatus

MHS students look over the new finals schedule.

Shrija Shandilya | The Chronicle

It’s final, Mason High School will have finals.

For the 2022-23 school year, MHS students will have midterm and final exams. For the past two years, finals were removed as students missed a lot of material or in-person instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Students have had to make many adjustments, and in the midst of the pandemic, MHS principal Bobby Dodd said that he and the staff decided it was best to cancel the 2020 final exams.

“In the past, I just didn’t think it was fair to give students cumulative exams over material that they may not even have seen or covered,” Dodd said. “Once the new year started, we had our staff vote on their thoughts about the importance of exams.”

English teacher Olivia Kinross said that there are teachers in both camps – some feel that finals cause too much stress and do not represent student learning, while others feel that finals help in indicating knowledge and preparing students for college. 

Dodd said that student input was not taken for the decision. 

“We don’t get student input on regular assessments during the year,” Dodd said. “You don’t get input on whether you should have a chemistry assessment or not.”

Over the past three years, the COVID-19 pandemic has had negative impacts on students, both academically and socially. Dodd said that recently,  he has seen improvement from past years in student mental health.

“I think things are better than they previously were,” Dodd said. “I’d say you see less of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

In addition to providing teachers with flexibility, Dodd said that finals will allow teachers to gauge how well students are understanding certain topics and improve learning plans. 

“Summative assessments should be given in order to show mastery of what students know and what they don’t know,” Dodd said. “We can provide feedback and hopefully get to a point where we can review [material] so that they know better down the road.”

Due to the flexibility provided, some teachers have opted to have final exams in a unique format. Kinross recently canceled final exams; instead, her classes will be doing a final project. She said this will better fit the format of her class.

“We’re right in the middle of a couple of writing units, and it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to do a test,” said Kinross.

Kinross said that in an ideal world, students at MHS will have a mix of exams and classes where they do fun activities before winter break, in order to not strain them too much. She said that much of this stress can be attributed to the changes in learning in the aftermath of COVID-19.

“I think kids today, compared to even just five years ago, have a lot more stress in their lives,” Kinross said.

MHS science teacher Erin Janecko said that COVID-19 has resulted in some positive changes to education by bringing more personalized learning to MHS. She said that there should be less of a push to return to what school was like prior to COVID-19.

“I don’t think finals are the greatest representation of what students learn in a semester and  they’re pretty high stakes and high stress,” Janecko said, “We shouldn’t just go back to the way things were before. I think it’s brought some good changes to education.” 

Janecko said that final exams do not always accurately resemble what students will encounter after high school, as some students may choose to go to a 4-year college, while others may take a different career path.

“Everything can’t just be preparation for college,” Janecko said. “College is changing. I was in college a few years ago and my classes never had a cumulative assessment, even my college level chemistry courses.”

Student learning skills have been heavily impacted due to changes from COVID-19. Sophomore Preston Estoesta said that students had to adjust to online learning, but he didn’t think it was effective for many.

“There’s a lot of people that can’t learn off the computer,” Estoesta said. “I lose focus when I’m supposed to be working.”

Estoesta said that along with the stress of studying, final exams also create stress about students’ final grades and GPAs. He said they have the potential to drop students’ grades at the last minute and put students in a situation where they cannot recover from a bad grade.

“It can be stressful,” Estoesta said. “People will be worrying about making sure that final exam grade is perfect and won’t bring your grade down.”

Senior Keith Neuberger learned remotely for the first half of his sophomore year. He said that it was challenging to take hands-on classes such as chemistry remotely. This made it more difficult to take AP Chemistry the following year.

Students in Abigail Gist’s classroom take a look at the finals schedule released by Mason Schools Administration

“It creates a butterfly effect,” he said. “You have gaps in content for one subject that can come back to haunt you in other subjects.”

Neuberger said that though it is beneficial for upperclassmen to have finals, incorporating too much college preparation in high school is detrimental, and final exams can contribute to this stress.

“Right now, it has gotten to the point where if you don’t do enough college prep stuff, it seems like a negative thing,” Neuberger says. “I think if it’s all testing, that’s harmful to mental health and causes a lot of unnecessary stress right before break.”

Dodd said that he is not certain about how finals will impact students. He said he plans to gauge the impact finals will have on students’ mental health this year and will adjust to make a decision that is best for the students. 

“We’ll monitor it and see if it’s not the best thing for kids down the road,” Dodd said. “We’ll look to make a change if we have to.”

Photo by Shrija Shandilya