High schools around the country that have shifted their first-semester exams to before the December break "will not go back," according to Denise Clark Pope, a Stanford University senior lecturer widely known for her advocacy of stress-reduction efforts in schools.
As the Palo Alto school district debates whether to hold first-semester finals before winter break starting in 2011, Pope said anecdotal evidence from other schools that have done so is overwhelmingly positive.
Yet little formal research exists on the subject, she said.
"There hasn't been hard core research where you have a control group, do follow-up and check stress levels. That hasn't happened," she said.
Pope, who became interested in the subject of stress in high-achieving high schools through her 1999 Stanford doctoral dissertation and is now considered a national expert, was preparing this week for her seventh annual conference on youth well-being, which opens Friday (Oct. 15). It runs through the weekend.
Pope's Stanford-based organization, Challenge Success, seeks to broaden what it calls the "conventional, high-pressure and narrow path to success and offer practical alternatives to pursue a broader definition."
Students and teachers from Gunn High School will join their counterparts from more than 20 other schools from around the country in weekend workshops aimed at finding ways to reduce stress and increase engagement with learning, Pope said.
Moving finals to before winter break is one of many strategies advocated by Pope's organization.
The Palo Alto Board of Education is slated to vote Nov. 9 on the district's academic calendars for 2011-2012 and 2012-2013.
Superintendent Kevin Skelly has recommended shifting first-semester finals to before winter break and beginning the school year in the third week of August rather than the fourth. Skelly also proposes to end the school year earlier -- May 31 in 2012 and May 30 in 2013.
The theme of the Challenge Success conference is "Walking the Talk: Aligning Actions and Values for Youth Well-Being."
Speaking at Friday's kickoff in Stanford's 1,700-seat Memorial Auditorium will be Los Angeles writer Wendy Mogel, author of "The Blessing of a Skinned Knee" and the soon-to-be-published "The Blessing of a B Minus."
Also speaking will be Marin clinical psychologist Madeline Levine, author of "The Price of Privilege."
RSVPs are required and can be made at csplenary2010.eventbrite.com/.