Town Square

No mid-year finals at Paly and Gunn

Original post made by Anne Avis on May 30, 2006

If PAUSD is serious about reducing stress among high school students, I hope they consider a proven strategy: eliminating mid-year finals in high school. Many people gasp in disbelief at the thought initially. But it works -- if the priority is to reduce stress while maintaining a rigorous academic program. Crystal Springs Uplands School, a small private college prep school in Hillsborough, has done this for 4 years. Teachers choose alternative, unit-based assessments including projects, essays and shorter tests -- even for semester courses. Finals at the end of the year become more about the bigger themes of the curriculum. Teachers and students report a much calmer winter season with more classroom learning time. Semester grades are determined based on a variety of assessments. It would be easier to implement than changing the PAUSD school calendar to allow the first semester to end prior to the holidays. A proposal has been submitted to Paly's Site Council and to the Stressed Out Students committee.


Posted by Phyllis Kayten, a resident of Southgate
on May 31, 2006 at 8:37 pm

Well on that note, I suggest the district change the class schedule to allow for either flexible start times, or later start times. Talk about stress - try to get a teenager to wake up in time to make first period at 7:50 am. I guess some kids wake up early, but most stay up late and have trouble getting up early. Sleeping in class is not the best way to get through highschool.

Posted by PALY alum, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 1, 2006 at 12:29 am

Hm, did either of you attend a PAUSD school as a student in the past few years? As a recent (within 5 years) PAUSD high school grad now in college, I could contend and say that the "high levels" of stress have actually paid off for me. Not only have the past levels of stress allowed me to better manage my stress in college, but although it seemed rough at the time, looking back, it was not all that bad. I wonder what any other students that have graduated the PAUSD system would think of this "Stressed Out Students Committee." I don't necessarily think that the stress needs to be cut out (okay, laxed, or whatever you want to call it) but rather that students need to be shown and taught how to better deal with it. Another part of it is that the students freak out in such high competition that they just don't know how to really deal with the stresses and pressure of grade school life. I condend that the high level of stress is one of the factors that has made PAUSD produce such great achievers later in life. There is always a group of people that think they are under too much stress. PAUSD has a reputation like non other for a reason. What's wrong with high stress as long as we know how to deal with it?

Posted by marc burkhardt, editor of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Jun 1, 2006 at 11:25 am

marc burkhardt is a registered user.

Dear Paly Alum,

Would you be interested in being contacted by a reporter for a possible future story on student stress? We write on the topic frequently, and do not often encounter a person with your perspective.

Please e-mail education reporter Alexandria Rocha at if you are interested in pursuing this further.

Posted by Member, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 1, 2006 at 4:34 pm

Dear Paly Alum,
So stress is good for you? I am the parent of a 1998 Paly grad who is still on antideppressant
medication that she began taking as a junior at Paly due to overwhelming stress. Although she has gone on to have a successful college experience and career she is bitter about the toll stress and pressure took on her high school experience. Robbing kids of their happiness and enjoyment in learning is too high a price to pay as a way to achieve "academic excellence". And by the way, why is high stress necessary to attain high achievement anyway?

Posted by PALY Alum, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 1, 2006 at 5:29 pm

Dear Member,

I wish not to stray off topic on the broader matter of stress in general. However I wish to apologize if I have misled or offended you. Stress is good, yes - we function because of stress. I drank a lot of water - I am stressed to go to the bathroom. If I wasn\'t stressed from the large quantity of water I might explode!

All light-heartedness aside, we are talking about a slightly different and quite complex matter at hand but I will stick with my stand and say that stress is indeed necessary and good. I will again stress (no pun intended) that students should be better equiped on how to deal with the stresses of life. High school is a part of that middle ground from being a child to blossoming into an adult. Stress is a part of life that we can\'t avoid. Sure we want to mitigate it for our youth as to not have it kill them but think of how valuable a lesson it would be to teach our students HOW to mitigate and how to deal with the stress rather than simply truncating a portion of it for them?

Posted by Chris Kenrick, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 1, 2006 at 8:28 pm

Eliminating mid-year finals is an interesting idea. As a Paly parent for the past six years, I have two other suggestions for reducing student stress while maintaining a rigorous program: 1) Make it easier for students to change lanes at semester break if the initial placement is not working out. 2) Make it easier for club athletes to waive out of the PE requirement. If a student is practicing a sport after school three to five times a week, PE is really unnecessary from a fitness standpoint, and having that extra prep period can be very significant in helping the student manage the academic load.

Posted by Stephanie Bodoff, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 2, 2006 at 8:07 am

Alternative evaluation methods that work in a small private school with 50 kids per grade may not scale to a large public school with 500 kids per grade. If finals are eliminated at the mid-year then the teachers might move to test the entire year's material at the end of the year. That would create more stress, not less.

Posted by Kathy, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 2, 2006 at 10:42 am

I agree with Paly Alum. Parents and teachers should teach students how to handle stress, not to simply "remove" it. Let's face it, life is stressful.

I'm also a PAUSD high school graduate. The high intensity and competitiveness at Gunn certainly prepped me for college. I went through college thinking, wow, this wasn't as hard as I had anticipated.

College wasn't a breeze but the experience I had at Gunn certainly enabled me to understand how to prioritize and manage the workload that is handed to me without a meltdown.

P.s. Dear Chris,

Changing lane shouldn't be that hard. I know I changed lane and my courses in mid-year. Also, in the past, they had never made students who were in after school sports teams participate in P.E. classes. We always had those as prep periods.

Posted by Stephanie Bodoff, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 2, 2006 at 10:48 am

Kathy, kids do get an exemption from PE by participating in school-sponsored sports. Chris was pointing out that this should be extended to kids that participate in club sports.

Posted by Kathy, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 2, 2006 at 10:53 am


Are club sports that not sponsored by school?

I'm pretty sure you can. Perhaps it's a non-spoken policy? I remembered I had a few friends who were exempt from PE classes.

Posted by Stephanie Bodoff, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 2, 2006 at 11:23 am

Club sports are run by private clubs. There is no affiliation with a school. Examples of club sports are rowing, badminton, soccer, synchronized swimming, swimming, fencing and so on. Kids that participate in club sports are not exempted from PE, no matter how many hours they put in. The only sports that qualify for PE exemption are for school-sponsored teams.

Posted by Chris Kenrick, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 2, 2006 at 2:03 pm

From what I've heard, it's occasionally easy but often very difficult to change lanes at semester break. (It may be up to the department head; I'm not sure). If you play a club sport, at least at Paly, I believe it is still quite difficult to be excused from PE. In any case, it would be great to have school-wide or district-wide policies to accommodate these situations whenever possible. I agree that students benefit by learning to manage stress in high school. But being consigned to a too-hard lane when a more suitable level is available or insisting on a PE requirement for a serious athlete is a waste of the student's time and undermines quality education.

Posted by Gunn Student, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 2, 2006 at 10:54 pm

I have to agree with the Paly alum and disagree with the managing editor on the issue of stress at high schools. Perhaps it's the people that the Weekly has been talking to (surely, the SOS committee, neurotic, stressed out kids, and certain school administrators), but the fact is if you survey a random selection of high school students at either PAUSD campus, the majority opinion seems to be that stress is an issue that has to be dealt with, but not an epidemic that has to be cured. Dealing with stress has to occur on an individual level, where students can work with teachers and parents to alleviate stress when it is unberable. When a situation is as complicated and individualized as student stress, drastic policy change is a crude remedy. In fact, cutting stress by eliminating midyear finals is a disservice to students; such finals help students brush up on knowledge and prove especially helpful to AP students come May.

The community in general gives teachers, administrators and students too little credit for their abilities to deal with stress. We, the students, do express our concerns when we feel a situation is or could be too stressful, and teachers and administrators do remain flexible. I believe the wise thing to do is to equip students with the ability to recognize how stress affects them and the confidence to express their concerns. This type of education lets students deal with the "real world" because, frankly, in life we won't always be protected by the Palo Alto bubble or SOS committees.

Posted by person, a resident of Ventura
on Jun 3, 2006 at 11:49 am

Although finals in the middle of the school year is stressful, it is good preparation for college. If the district is really worried about the stress level and such, they should have thought about it before they revised the academic calander. Before this year, we had at least a day off once every three weeks, now we go months without a day off. Those days off were a nice break from the stress. I would rather have a day off every now and then than an entire week off. Ski week is pointless, not only does school start earlier and ends later because of this, it also takes time away from AP classes trying to prepare for the test before the big day.

Posted by Paly soccer alumn, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 4, 2006 at 3:19 pm

This is in reply to the comments about "contract PE" at Paly, which is supposed to allow atheletes on club teams to get exempted from PE during Freshman and Sophomore years when it is otherwise required if they are in intensive training programs. I graduated from Paly last year and played soccer year-round on a very high level club team. Freshman year I submitted all the paperwork to be granted contract PE, along with several of my teammates, and Earl Hansen rejected all of the requests. Paly seems only willing to give contract PE to gymnists and swimmers, and there is no explanation offered as to why.
So I was required to do PE (no prep) and then trained with my club team for 2+ hours after school...far more intensively than the high school soccer team. The ability to have a prep during PE freshman and sophomore years would have made a huge difference in the stress I felt those years.
I don't know if a new state law is required or whether Paly just does a poor job at administering the contract PE program, but the system definitely doesn't work.

Posted by Kevin Hurst, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 24, 2006 at 8:41 am

Just keep the finals. Most of us are fine with them [portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Russell, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 3, 2006 at 7:06 pm

Haha I agree with Kevin, the mid-semester finals aren't that stressful, just the average paly student is really bad at time management.