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on Apr 8, 2013
There are some very good things here:
1. The Board implements P-8: The 3 member majority of the board, including current members Barbara Mitchell and Dana Tom made a courageous decision to follow Project Safety Net P-8's recommendation for reducing academic stress including for finals before break. They followed the advice of experts like Denise Pope, looked to the experience of other districts adopting best practices, and did the right thing to help our students have a work-free break. While they have not been profiles in courage in other matters, they showed real independence here and deserve credit. In the PAUSD world of constant, unmerited praise, here is conduct that deserves some. Good job to Klausner, Mitchell, and Tom.
2. Making use of data: Despite the fact that the survey questions were written in a way that was likely to produce biased results against finals before break, the majority of every group surveyed wants to retain finals before break even in the face of the tradeoffs that they require. This is exactly the kind of data-driven policy that PAUSD needs to do more of.
3. District-wide rather than site-based policy: the calendar is a great example of how a Unified District works with a board setting policy and a district staff implementing it uniformly across schools in the district.
4. Stakeholder engagement: Although I did not agree with the opponents of the new calendar I think that they received every deference and every opportunity to be heard and to participate in the process. The district in general needs to do a better job with stakeholder engagement and develop an open and transparent process for selecting members of advisory committees to ensure broad-based participation and not only PTAC or insider committees. This is important so that the board hears from all voices rather than just a few repeat players. Even those with whom district staff disagrees are important community voices and deserve to be heard. This was proved in this case, in the Gunn Counseling Committee, and in the Homework Committee.
A board Administrative Regulation should be adopted specifying a clear process for selecting committees that advise the district and/or board. There should not be hand-picked members placed on committees through closed processes, nor should there be short time windows to apply or other criteria that will tend to eliminate certain groups (such as meeting during the day which makes it hard for working parents).
Hopefully everyone will now concede that the change has been beneficial and allow PAUSD to move on to considering other interventions on the P-8 list, such as making grading and evaluations consistent across classes and teachers. We have one great accomplishment here to reduce stress, another with the homework limits, and a counseling improvement process proceeding at Gunn. The calendar is a done deal. More still is to be done so, as the Superintendent likes to say, let's get after it.
The survey said all responses would be anonymous.
Yet you quote "an elementary teacher".
If that quote comes from the survey results, then thankyou district for not protecting the anonymity as promised. Great way to make sure you don't get useful and HONEST comments in the future.
Everyone but the seniors were taken into account here. There is no way to express the disservice that was done to this class. And counting survey numbers will never reveal the problem because one class worth of kids are obviously outnumbered.
The advantage kids in our district had over kids in other districts is now gone. The year was just one big rush.
Yes we had some superstar students on the calendar committee. Do they really know what life is like for other kids - I don't think so.
Senior Parent --
Here's what the seniors who responded to the survey had to say: Web Link
This is fantastic news for our high school students. My older children were so relaxed during Winter Break, for the first time in all their high school years. The past years with final exams looming upon return in January prevented any joy during Winter Break.
Thank you to the elementary school parents/teachers for looking to future and seeing the benefit of a stress-free Winter Break.
Please stop saying this is a done deal. It is not. It is a two year pilot and we are not through with the first year yet. We have not experienced what ending in May is going to be like for anyone. We have not experienced what the difficulties of scheduling spring sports alongside finals, Graduation and Baccalaureat scheduling, or childcare problems.
Baccalaureate has been a big problem and many families are not happy with the new arrangement.
I think it is premature to say that the calendar is a done deal, particularly as the winter break schedule with Christmas Day early in the week is going to be different when Christmas Day falls on a Friday, for example. The fact that the past Thanksgiving fell as early as it can in the month and the next year Thanksgiving will fall as late as it can in November will definitely shorted the number of school days between Thanksgiving and finals and that has not been mentioned by anyone.
This is still less than half way through a two year pilot and there are still big teething problems.
Thanks for posting the link to the survey. Anyone who looks at the survey will realize that the vast majority of our students, Seniors and all others in high school, prefer finals before winter break. I attended two different UC's before graduating from CAL, back in the 60's when the calendars were changing. By far the most preferable for me, then, was a schedule that had finals before winter break. Almost every college has switched to this schedule either by having 3 quarters instead of semesters, or starting in August.
In future years, the school board might want to consider going to a quarter system that would match Stanford and other colleges - but it would mean 3 sets of finals. I have no opinion on this. But it is the only rational change that would satisfy those who want an August vacation.
The one question on the survey that surprised me was the one asking if students spent time on homework over winter break that was due in January. I was shocked to see that 14% of the Seniors answered yes. I thought the homework policy and calendar was designed to give students a stress-free break, especially with so many college apps due Jan. 1. I don't remember what the actual homework policy has to say about this. If it wasn't supposed to happen, someone should have a word with those teachers. If it is allowed, it should not be. This is another example of where a district-wide policy should be made and enforced.
"Thirty-nine percent said December finals "somewhat negatively" (22.5 percent) or "negatively" (16.7 percent) affected their work on college applications."
Is PAUSD happy that the new calendar hurts 39% of our seniors applying to college?
Given that this year was the absolute WORST in college admissions history, at the UCs and elsewhere, can PAUSD look seniors in the eye and let them in on exactly how this calendar made their lives better? What does PAUSD say to them and all seniors who come after them - "look at the bright side, think about how much less stress you'll have after that h@llacious first semester is over"?
That relative euphoria will last until college rejection letters stack up in their mailboxes and they wonder whether a rejection might have been an acceptance if only they had used the time they devoted to finals on their college applications.
Sadly for them, there are no excuses and no re-dos in the college admissions world.
I know several exceptionally bright seniors among the 39% who did not get any of the fat envelopes they had hoped for in the mail. All I hear from them is regret that they were not born a year earlier so they could have avoided the calendar that crushed them and their friends.
And for what benefit exactly? The surveys are clear; even in a "new and improved" pre-break finals world, homework during break remained and it was not stress-free -- tons of high school students remained stressed even when finals were behind them.
It seems odd to me that survey results from a mid-year survey are being used (or at least summarized as such here) as definitive feedback on the new calendar. We have yet to complete an entire academic year and I'm not sure that there won't be issues for some of our high school students who will have to deal with AP Tests, finals and maybe even some sports finals falling back-to-back. There are some great things about the new calendar, but also some negatives that have been introduced. It seems that it would make sense to survey the community once we've lived through an entire "cycle" to make sure we got it right.
There's only 7 weeks left of the current Calendar.
Though the large majority of Elementary parents still want a later start:
School starting later in August with an early June ending 49.8%
School starting earlier in August with a late May ending 36.2%
If only they could sort that out, they might be there.
Thanks Anne and the other parents who reminded us all that this only reflects 1st semester feedback and not an entire school year at minimum. The sprint to the end of the year only started today(!), so I will be curious to hear feedback after one year is complete.
More importantly, the fact that there were still students doing homework over winter break is alarming. The whole reason this calendar was considered was because a group of parents wanted to guarantee a "work free break." Hello? Anybody? Even this calendar did not achieve that sacred goal.
So, mull that over while you get to choose between attending your senior's graduation or your older child's college graduation... because turning a high school calendar into a college calendar creates new conflicts.
When this survey was taken, the results from the UC's and many other schools were not in yet. And it is difficult for some students to tie the rush they were in during Nov and Dec with the acceptances or rejections they are receiving now. But it is a real effect.
Agree I was surprised the survey was offered before the entire year was over. However, if seniors plan ahead and begin their applications in the summer, this should avoid stress.
It's preposterous to assume the calendar is to blame for the tough admissions year. Other schools in the area have final exams before Winter Break. Perhaps it's just been a tough year for all seniors nationwide.
The reason students do not "tie" their acceptance or rejection to the "rush they were in during Nov and Dec" is that it is totally not related. College acceptance hinges on 4 years of grades and extracurriculars, SAT or ACT scores that are generally (for PAUSD students) extensively prepped and taken at least twice, and teacher recommendations for which the groundwork is laid long long before November of senior year. The reason it seems unrelated to students is that it is in fact unrelated as a factual matter.
If you really want to do your senior a favor, PAUSD parents, have them start their UC and Common App essays in the summer. Don't let them procrastinate until the essays deadlines start to approach. if they do procrastinate then I think you have your reason as to what might lie behind that thin envelope, and it might be an accurate reading by the admissions office of a child's ability to thrive in a high-pressure environment if they tend to procrastinate, so it might not be an injustice but just an appropriate decision even if it feels unjust to you. It should be obvious but I guess for some people it needs to be stated.
There is no reason that PAUSD students should have or deserve to have an "advantage" "over kids in other districts," the end of which "senior parent" bemoaned in her post above. PAUSD students already have wealth, racial privilege, high parental educational status, and a host of other advantages over virtually everyone else ON THIS PLANET. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
Thank you PA Weekly for posting the results and the summary.
The results are overwhelmingly positive (please go look at all the surveys) from all constituencies. Even teachers and parents whose oldest child is in middle or elementary school support the change. It's time to MOVE ON from grousing about the new calendar.
Agree with the first two paragraphs of "We Did Better", regarding the acceptance rates and calendar. Although I disagree that all PAUSD students are entitled and have every opportunity to succeed. I know plenty of PA households who live mortgage to mortgage with no extra money for tutors or extracurriculars (I don't agree with it, but it's common). Old Palo Alto is not a good representation of the rest of Palo Alto.
I recently attended a Junior Year Night (which should have occurred in the fall) for parents and our advisor told us to "Start thinking about taking the SATs" and begin college apps in the fall. WHAT? Most Paly students (including mine) had already taken the SATs on March 9. And nothing was said about AP Tests or SAT Subject Tests. Plus, college apps should be started in the summer. Why are Advisors telling parents that it's okay to start college apps in the fall? It will increase the stress on the students if they wait till fall to start college apps. I also noticed Paly gears their talks towards acceptance into CA state schools and does not include info that might be necessary for out-of-state schools.
Bottom line: Parents, stay awake and keep on top of all this college admissions prep. Students who do not have involved parents are at a great disadvantage.
Did anyone else notice that 14% of the students responded that they had homework assigned over Break? Sort of defeats the whole purpose of no school work over Break when teachers disregard it...
Regarding the 14%. There are many reasons why some students do homework over breaks. It seems unwise to assume it is all assigned homework to be completed over break. Some may in fact be, but it may also be that some kids are working to complete an incomplete, to get started on next semester, they have special accommodations that give them more time to turn in the semester's work or whatever. Without more information, we really don't know why the students were doing the homework over break.
The new calendar surveys show that lots more than 14% of high schoolers had homework during the new "no more homework over Xmas break" pre-break finals calendar this year:
41% of 9th, 10th and 11th graders
Web Link Question 27
35% of seniors
Web Link Question 10
Dear Feeling the pain,
I suspect that in previous years the percentage of students who did homework over the break was MUCH higher. The fact that 65% of seniors did no homework is significant. The next two brackets indicate that 19% did 1 to 2 hours of homework and 10% did 3-4 hours of homework. Since we don't know why that happened (some teachers ignoring the homework break for yearlong classes, or some students catching up) it still indicated that a huge percentage had no homework and 39% more had 1-4 hours of homework over a two week period. That's not bad for the first year of the calendar change and encompasses 93% of all the seniors. The percentages are similar for younger high school students (59% no homework, 24% 1-2 hours, 9% 3-4 hours which represents 92.7% of the students).
"we don't know why that happened (some teachers ignoring the homework break for yearlong classes, or some students catching up)"
What we do know:
The reason we got this new calendar was that many teachers ignored the old calendar's "no homework over break" policy. This calendar was designed to end the semester with a summative test so there would be no semester left for semester long classes and no mid-chapter homework for year long classes. Didn't work out that way.
The survey asked students if they got an extension which, by doing so, allowed them to turned a pre-break finals calendar for all into individual post-break finals one (i.e., what we had before). 9% did.
Subtract 9% from 40% and there still are gobs and gobs of students who had homework over break.
As for last year's calendar, I recall earlier surveys showing that students didn't have much homework over break then either - a few hours during break - at most.
So, things stayed much the same this year and last on the homework over break front. Can't call changes to homework one of the new calendar's "benefits."
There was a Junior night at Paly in the Fall where the Guidance dept. explained a testing timeline--including subject tests and AP tests; it's posted on paly.net. And, students heard information in Advisory much sooner than the Spring parent night.
Not every junior follows the same timeline! Some are not ready to begin college apps in the summer. The College Advisors send an end-of-year email before summer recapping information from their appts with students, either how to search for colleges in earnest or about how to get started with college apps if that's where students are in the process.
@Paly Parent: Why would our Advisor tell parents to "begin thinking about taking the SAT" over a week after the March SAT date?
How could Juniors not be "ready to begin college apps in the summer"? You think 1-2 months makes a difference? That they aren't ready in July or August but are suddenly ready to tackle homework and college apps simultaneously at the end of August or in October? Doesn't follow common sense.
More telling than counting homework hours is whether students achieved the stress-free break promised them under the new pre-break finals calendar.
It appears not:
49% of seniors were stressed over winter break
34% of students in grades 9, 10 and 11 were
Those are high during break "stress" percentages given that all students had finished finals and closed the semester before winter break began, save the 9% (who were so stressed that they could not finish the semester on time?) given extensions to get their work done.
Why no stress relief over break for so many?
Perhaps it was because of the school work that continued during break a difficult nut to crack it seems regardless of when finals fall.
Or perhaps it was that it took most of the break for our high school students to de-stress given how exceptionally difficult it was to have finals in a December filled with college apps and holiday preparations, during the short leg of uneven semesters with fewer days to master the same amount of material, etc. This is completely plausible given that almost 100% of our high school students reported being stressed, most HIGHLY stressed, right before their winter break began.
So the benefits of a pre-break finals calendar do NOT include "no stress over winter break" and "low stress before winter break" either.
Good questions about homework over winter break and students feeling stressed.
Some students will feel stress regardless because it is in their makeup, or because of parental pressures.
What about spring break? It would be interesting to know whether students felt stress and did homework/schoolwork over spring break.
Of my 2 students, one felt stressed and worked on schoolwork whereas the other was more relaxed even with APs on the horizon. A lot of it was because of their personalities but some of it could also be blamed on pressures from teachers too.
What the students said about their levels of stress over winter break:
No stress: 50.5%
Some stress: 29.1%
Moderate stress: 10.2%
Moderately high stress: 5.6%
Very stressed: 4.6%
FRESHMEN THROUGH JUNIORS:
No stress: 66.7%
Some stress: 24.2%
Moderate stress: 6%
Moderately high stress: 1.7%
Very stressed: 1.4%
And here are the high levels of stress high school students reported in December, right before winter break:
No stress: 4.7%
Some stress: 11.6%
Moderate stress: 30.2%
Moderately high stress: 33.1%
Very stressed: 20.4%
FRESHMEN THROUGH JUNIORS:
No stress: 3.9%
Some stress: 15.5%
Moderate stress: 28.5%
Moderately high stress: 32.5%
Very stressed: 19.6%
I would argue that the pre-break high stress levels are due to finals and appear to be similar accross all grade levels. The calendar can't eliminate the high levels of stress that finals create. There is more work we can do to reduce academic stress in our schools. Reinstating the district focus goal to eliminate test and project stacking is one area. Policies around final exam grade weighting to reduce the impact on the final grade is another. Making December finals optional for seniors is an idea some teachers are floating.
There are a number if teachers that assign homework over breaks. My senior daughter had substantial homework during both breaks. I LOVE the new schedule, but think that the teachers that assign this work, often due the Monday after, need a serious talking to, and some consequences. But, my daughter has refused to allow me to say anything due to fears of retribution, which my son also was concerned about. That teachers can assign this work over the break and not be called on it by intimidation (subtle of course) is not ok in my book.
First of all, I would encourage everyone to read the comments section of all the groups surveyed. I found reading the respondents own words more enlightening than the hard to interpret questions/answers.
Yes, the leading questions and the possible answers on the survey forced respondents in one way or the other.... And a cursory glance of the results, as evidenced by the headline/gist of this article, leads to shallow conclusions. The posts on this very discussion, become glass half-full vs half-empty depending on your own personal bias, but at least people are starting to look more deeply at what the results might indicate. This all brings us full circle as to why mucking around with a calendar won't fix the most fundamental complaint that started it in the first place... a work-free break.
The people who lobbied in favor of this calendar insisted that it force a work free break for 100% of the student population. Those who lobbied against it said that there will still be students who work over break, that there is no way to force or enforce a work-free break... even though previous surveys indicated that the average amount of homework over a 17 day break was only ~4 hours. Well, we turned the school year upside down over 4 hours of homework and we still have homework happening over break. Even I am surprised by how high that percentage was.
There needs to be a better understanding of "stress" and how each individual person deals with it differently. Until that happens, mucking around with the calendar will solve nothing.
Here are some fairly recent articles that I found more informative than any of this idea that a calendar change can make a stress free/work free break.
Why Can Some Kids Handle Pressure While Others Fall Apart? -
Exercise May Help Protect Children From Stress -
When Exercise Stresses You Out -
Really? Constant Stress Makes You Sick -
When Daily Stress Gets in the Way of Life -
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] Of course, students will be stressed the weeks before final exams, doesn't matter if it's prior to Winter Break or after Winter Break - final exams are stressful.
Eliminating final exams for seniors in their first semester only would greatly reduce stress so students can have more time for college applications. I doubt this would be stated on the School Profile and students will have already experienced final exams in the years prior.
The Senior survey results say it best. ~87% want finals before break so they can focus on college applications during the break. Read no further. Most of the winter break stress is related to College applications. Unavoidable.
Studies also prove that multi-tasking doesn't really work, results in lower quality work, and that's what competing deadlines force students to do.
In reading through the posts, beginning with We Did Better, one element is missing from the process the Board has undertaken - accountability and reporting. It appears that individual teachers may be violating the "no homework during the break" rule and there is no provision in the policy for how this will be addressed. Without accountability and reporting, site based administration leaves each school to their own devices. This is not acceptable and over time will degrade the impact of the new calendar implementation. I would also ask that the teacher's union step up to police their own.
Menlo Park mom,
Maybe you didn't notice: 1/3 of non-seniors were stressed during the new calendar's winter break and that was without college applications to do.
As for seniors, take a look at the colleges' applications the common one and each colleges' supplement. Add up the time it would take you to complete them well. How good a job could you do with 10 days, including Christmas, to complete 10 or more common and supplemental applications and write 10-20 essays on the heels of an exhausting month of finals that followed 3 months of school without a break, except for Thanksgiving, which the survey shows was filled with homework and college application work too.
The essays are important and are often the determining factor between students with similar grades and scores. They require a lot of reflection and all require multiple drafts. Cutting and pasting one essay over and over again was a strategy that did not work well and sent lots of seniors scrambling at the last minute.
It is not responsible to tell seniors to wait until the last minute to do this work. It pretty much ensures that they will be rushed and so not present themselves in the best light. And what happens if they get sick after the months of stress building up to and through finals? Lob off 4 or 5 colleges they wanted to apply to because they ran out of time?
I'm all in for this calendar if it accomplished its noble goals (break filled with no stress and no homework) and mitigations were in place so no student was harmed by it.
But it just didn't work out that way:
There were still lots of high school students with homework and still lots of stress during winter break.
And 1 out of 3 seniors had to sacrifice something important because of it studying for finals or not doing their best on college applications.
Over 80% of high school students in every grade like this change. Except for freshmen, they have all lived with high school with post-break finals. We can invent reasons why they are wrong, but why? Let's listen to the students for a change.
@disappointed: Very few kids are doing their "10-20" essays in the last couple of weeks of December. First there are tons of kids who apply ED/EA in October (thereby finishing at least the common app essays), then the UCs/CSUs apps are due at the end of November.
Only private schools have RD deadlines in early January. How many kids are applying *only* to private schools for the Regular Decision round? Very few. And if they have waited till the last couple weeks of December to get started, then that's really their own self-made problem.
BTW, once they do finish their apps, at least now they have a whole week after finishing to decompress, something the old schedule didn't give them.
Reality Check is right... let's listen to the students!
Reality Check and Parent,
Here's what students said about what their lives were like in a pre-break finals world (pulled from above):
On stress over break: 34% of students in grades 9, 10 and 11 were stressed out over break and 49% of seniors were
On homework over break: 41% of 9th, 10th and 11th graders had homework over break and 35% of seniors did
College Applications: 39% said December finals "somewhat negatively" (22.5 percent) or "negatively" (16.7 percent) affected their work on college applications. Elsewhere in they survey they elaborated, pointing out that they either cut time out of studying for finals or did not spend the time needed for college applications.
It would behoove the district to not stop at a popularity vote as you two suggest but drill down and understand the impact to help adults help them.
Would students have "liked" the calendar as much if they had had a clue when they got the survey that the calendar had missed its mark by such a wide margin and the "fixes" they thought the district had in place didn't work out so well for their friends?
No calendar will make everyone happy, but since the overwhelming majority of high school students preferred finals before winter break, their voices clearly should overrule the minority of parents who just can't seem to get over the fact that they can't spend 4 weeks in Europe in August. After all, you're not the ones taking finals.
I'm surprised this is still considered an open issue. The results of the survey are clear. Most colleges and high schools have adopted a similar schedule. I still remember returning to college for finals and papers post Winter Break. It was terrible. Give the kids a break and let's put this issue to rest.
Am I the only one with challenges finding summer camps beginning June 3rd for an elementary school student? For those of us that teach in other districts that are not unified, there is a definite difference in what is offered for high school versus grade K-8.
The calendar may be good for high school but what about the other 9 grades that are part of the school district????
Why not have a separate schedule for high school if that is so valuable to have exams before Christmas break?
Also, is the new calendar set to help Palo Alto schools do well on the AP classes -- more teach days before the May testing? When I spoke to other teachers outside of CA, that was their first comment...
Yes Mom you are the only one, since PACCC and the YMCA and the City are all offering camps during that time window. If you are just now looking you are having trouble because you somehow missed the deadlines and sign ups which were a month ago. That's not about the calendar.
Didn't I hear the Time to Thrivers promise no summer camps? Right around the "you'll have blood on your hands" guy? That didn't happen either. Now I don't know who to trust...
Mom and Teacher: If the calendar weren't the same, the people with children in different schools (elementary, middle, high) would have some difficulty. Obviously, you have not experienced having a child at high school yet or you would understand how stressful PA high schools are. Not all students take AP classes; the calendar was revised so all high school students can have a relaxed Winter Break without the doom of returning to final exams after break. After all, high school grades (not elementary grade camps) determine the future for so many students and the mental stability of our high school students is of the utmost importance. When you get there, you'll have the "aha moment."
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