News

School board majority may favor pre-break finals

Some press for later school start date and 'mitigation' of scheduling problems for some students

A majority of Palo Alto Board of Education members suggested Tuesday they will support a proposed calendar that will end next year's first semester before the December break if certain problems can be "mitigated."

Board members Barb Mitchell, Dana Tom and Melissa Baten Caswell indicated they generally support the notion of pre-break final exams for high school students.

But they pressed Superintendent Kevin Skelly on whether he could push the August 2011 school start date a few days later, and mitigate possible problems pre-break finals could pose for performing arts students and seniors in the midst of college applications.

Although not plainly stating how they will vote, board member Camille Townsend and Board President Barbara Klausner appeared cooler to Skelly's proposed calendar change, which would begin the 2011-2012 school year Aug. 18 and end the first semester Dec. 22.

If the board approves Skelly's proposal Nov. 9 -- Palo Alto will join nearby high schools, including Menlo-Atherton, Los Altos, Mountain View, Woodside, St. Francis, Castilleja and Menlo -- in attempting to ease student stress by offering students a homework-free winter break.

The calendar issue has aroused passionate opinions from all sides, with some arguing the change would add stress as well as interfere with summer and holiday family trips and others saying that giving students a clean break over the holidays makes the tradeoffs worthwhile.

A September Facebook poll. asking Gunn students whether fall semester finals should be held before winter break even if it means starting school a week earlier, found 183 in favor of, and 37 against, the change.

Noting the "angst and passion" around the issue, Mitchell suggested that if Skelly could move the August start date from Thursday Aug. 18 to Monday Aug. 22, he could secure "a much larger group of people who could go along with this."

"I know there's something in (the proposed change) that can be really good, but I don't want to jump into a decision without mitigating the problems," Caswell said.

"I'm worried about seniors, about the performing arts kids, the kids doing sports. The problems need to be looked at in a serious way."

Comments

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Posted by Are they dreaming?
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 27, 2010 at 7:06 am

Exactly how will pre-break finals make for a homework free break?

Almost all the classes kids take are year-long classes leaving teachers free to assign work (in textbooks that are in kids' homes) regardless of when finals are. This is especially true in AP classes which are up against the wall with all the material they need to get through by the 1st of May.

There is no way to "mitigate" this; PAUSD cannot micromanage teachers' assignments and it's said so.

So, the district wants to change the calendar chasing after something that won't materialize WHILE making December unbelievably more stressful for Palo Alto seniors applying to colleges because the proposed calendar, if passed:

- will have our kids doing all the usual college stuff AND studying for and taking finals in December (instead of deferring them to mid-January), and

- will keep our kids in school 5 more December days (through 12.22), days that they now have free to catch up on their sleep, spend time with family and with time to spare to finish up their college applications by January 1.

I don't see any of the great private colleges our students apply to changing their January 1 deadline just because Palo Alto decided to change its calendar.

So be assured that while:

- The rest of the kids around the country trying to get into the same colleges our students are (whose December will be devoid of the stress/distraction of finals) will have two completely free weeks relaxedly and diligently working on their college applications

-- Palo Alto kids will still be in class, day after day for a full week or more, distracted and stressed out about finals, before they get to the one week PAUSD proposes to give them before college applications are due to catch up on their sleep, travel/celebrate the holidays with their families AND finish up their applications without interruption.

Again, for what? The dream of a free winter break that teachers will still assign work in anyway.

The proposed calendar will not take away stress. It will double or quadruple it.




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Posted by FInals?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2010 at 9:26 am



1) isn't there enough testing, why do you need FInals?

2) how can it be a FInal for only half of the year?

3) do all classes need Finals? what do they accomplish? qualifying for the next grade, or just to get a grade?


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2010 at 9:31 am

Totally agree with the long post that moving to December will actually increase stress levels and create more problems as you try to "mitigate" big issues here and there. Leave things as they are.


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Posted by Sue
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 27, 2010 at 9:41 am

I agree pretty much with what "Are they dreaming?" said. The proposed calendar will not take away stress. It will increase it significantly.

One of the major support of "final before break" seems to be student survey. But were students given pros and cons when they took the survey. Ask a student if we should get rid of final, he will say yes. Ask a student if we should start each school day around noon, he will say yes. So the support of "final before break" from students is quite different from the support for the new calendar proposal.

Good luck to next years juniors and seniors. Don't count on the district to reduce stress for you. I am afraid that you have to deal with the newly imposed stress from the new calendar on top of your standardized testing and college application.


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Posted by palyparent
a resident of University South
on Oct 27, 2010 at 9:45 am

What was clear at the meeting last night is that there are all sorts of clear examples that proposed calendar will cause problems, and nothing besides a vague feeling that it will reduce stress, so let's try it. It would be irresponsible of the board to approve this calendar, given the information they've been presented. "Let's try it and do the research later" is not a solution.

One more interesting point came out at the meeting--the kids will take their finals moments before the break, but won't get grades until some time after. I don't know about your kids, but replacing a small chance of homework over break by a very real chance that they'll be worried about how they scored on finals won't reduce stress for mine.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2010 at 11:41 am

I still believe that teachers, particularly AP teachers will assign homework over Winter break. They will put it as "this is a great way to get ahead for next Semester" or "do some outside reading along these lines for extra credit" but if they assign work at present, they will still assign work in the future. And just because the semester is over, the next semester classes are known and it will just put their stresses earlier. Teachers are already contact next year's students at the beginning of summer break, so they will still do the same at Winter break.


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Posted by Concerned parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 27, 2010 at 12:16 pm

All of these concerns have been sent to the school board members by many, many people. My observation is they have made up their mind and are not listening. I have a child who will be a senior next year and I am sick to my stomach with the thoughts of all that she must take on next Fall. I just don't get it.


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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of another community
on Oct 27, 2010 at 1:11 pm

Why can't seniors (not just those applying early decision or early action) start their applications earlier? With a little planning, both the applications and the exams could be done before break.


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Posted by Here's why
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2010 at 1:42 pm

Anonymous,

Maybe because they have hard classes all day, hours of homework each night, colleges to research/visit/audition for, and music rehearsals and performances or athletic practices and events (and if the calendar passes, finals to prepare for too) all happening those same few months too.

With the ramped up competition for colleges now, kids on average apply to 6-10 (some even more) colleges. That's a lot of paperwork to complete and essays to write during what is an already extremely busy and stressful season for them.

Add to that that college essay questions aren't all out until sometime in September, and you can see how the winter break is the best and only real time students have to reflect, proofread, double check, breath, etc before sending their college applications off in the mail by January 1st.


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Posted by PAUSD alumni
a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 27, 2010 at 2:34 pm

I think the board and calendar committee are looking at this upside down. We need to push back the start of school to at least after Labor Day and have the end of the 1st semester be in February giving teachers an extra "quarter" if you will of instruction before any "finals". This way leading up to winter break would just be an end of "3rd quarter" and there really wouldn't be a need to assign anything during that time. This portion of it would have to be respected by teachers and parents alike with repercussion if not adhered to. There would be time when school resumes after winter break to read another book, learn another unit of a subject before any final testing needed to be done. Then we also can combine the end of 1st semester with those school holidays that happen in January. This would mean that we would have to get out later in June but I would much prefer to extend the school year in June when the weather isn't as hot and kids are still involved in sports if it meant that we can have our entire month of August back. This is how it was back when I went to school in Palo Alto. The time between Thanksgiving and Winter Break is stressful enough, why push to end the semester during that time as well? I bet the kids would vote for that if it was spelled out in those terms.


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Posted by Listen to the kids
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 27, 2010 at 2:42 pm

According to The Campanile, Palo Alto High School's paper, 78% of Paly students would prefer having finals before winter break. Also, 3/4 of Bay Area high schools already have pre-break finals and are quite satisfied.

In addition, I have a senior in high school and with early decision, early action, and a swamped UC system - most students are encouraged to complete their applications before the winter break, often as early as November 1st.

My younger children are looking forward to a relaxed, stress free winter break. Thank you PAUSD.


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Posted by no skin in this game any more, just wisdom
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Oct 27, 2010 at 3:09 pm

I can't wait to finish this. Just end the semester before winter break, give the kid a REAL REST for 2 weeks, instead of a non-rest with finals and projects hanging over their heads the whole time.

The majority of adults have at least one day per week "off work", our highschoolers go non-stop now almost 10 months, with one weekend off in January with "no work". This is ridiculous. They work as hard has I and most folks I know did in college..but in college we got to "collapse" for a few weeks between semesters at winter break and REST.

Treat them as well most of us were in college. Give them a rest. We are adults, and presumably want what is best for kids, not for ourselves.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 27, 2010 at 3:27 pm

I agree with "Are they Dreaming"

What we hear from the board members is that the current proposed calendar will not meet everyone's needs, then whose needs are they trying to meet by changing the calendar? A lot of people are quite happy with the current calendar why the need to change it.

Having the finals before the winter break to "Alleviate stress" seems to be the pretext of the proposed calendar. However, there does not seem to be any evidence pointing to that.

A few years ago I would have not had much of an opinion on when the finals were, but now that I have a senior child, I know how busy their schedule is and how stressful the College application process is. It is equivalent to having an extra class load.

Changing finals to pre-break will actually increase their stress rather than alleviate it. These students have worked so hard for so many years to reach this point, and PAUSD wants to make it harder for them by throwing in finals on top their already heavy workload some with multiple AP classes.

Starting applications earlier is not feasible for reasons already mentioned. Maybe we can ask students to study for their finals earlier and keep it after the break.

A few years ago the calendar and finals dates would not have mattered to me. Now that I have a senior child, I know how busy their schedule is and how stressful the College application process is, I can not disagree with the proposed calendar more.



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Posted by Are they dreaming?
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 27, 2010 at 3:48 pm

Listen,

The college issue is for the students who apply to private colleges. With lots of financial aid out there, lots and lots of PAUSD kids apply to at least one private school, many apply to many more.

Student surveys aren't helpful without knowing what questions were asked and if students were fully informed about the trade offs before they voted, hence probably why the district didn't include the surveys in their materials I suspect. Otherwise you'd have to know a graduate who has gone through it to know what the impact in their December will be.

Anyway, my child is in high school and neither she nor any of her friends ever heard of a survey let alone filled one out.

Where'd you get your numbers on local high schools with pre-break finals? While the district's chart lists 15 districts around us with them, it didn't give data for any of the 75 high schools in neighboring San Francisco and Alameda Counties. I just randomly checked some of their websites and I didn't see any which have pre-break finals. Without more it's tough to call out what's happening around us.

But we don't really need that information. Just look at schools with apples-to-apples student outcomes (API, APs) like PiE Benchmark schools and CA's 10 highest performing high schools which Paly and Gunn are part of. We are academically and demographically similar to them and their students apply to the same types of colleges at the same rates as our students and so have the same concerns. None of the PiE Benchmark schools have pre-break finals -- 75% of the whole group DON'T have pre-break finals either (ones that do have shorter school years so kid have more time off on other days to work on aps in the Fall).


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Posted by Nadav G
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 27, 2010 at 4:56 pm

"A Campanile survey of over four hundred Palo Alto High School students found that the majority of students support the switch and 78 percent of students would prefer having finals before winter break."

Check out the Palo Alto High School Campanile story about the proposal and how Paly students and teachers have responded to it.

Web Link


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Posted by Sue
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 27, 2010 at 5:39 pm

Cross post from another related thread:

The impact of final before break is worse for seniors. Seniors will always be the minority (1/4 of high school) and can not win the survey.

Is is possible to give the senior class a separate final after break? There will be some non-seniors in the class and they might appreciate a spread out finals (some before break and some after break).


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Posted by Surveys are hard to read & harder to give
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 27, 2010 at 5:53 pm

Thanks Navad for the link.

Can you share what survey question was asked, what background was provided about what seniors' December will look like with finals in it compared to without, what it said about the college application process with deadlines to students had context, what students thought about the earlier in August start date, and how and to whom the survey was distributed? Could students vote more than once if they wanted to?

Re-reading your article I see that it isn't that a majority of Paly students support pre-break finals, a majority of the VOTES did. Since only 400 votes were recorded (some possibly more than once), all it tells us is that there were 312 votes in favor (max, assuming no one voted more than once) in a school with 2,000 students.


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Posted by Nadav G
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 27, 2010 at 6:22 pm

In response to 'Surveys are hard to read & harder to give'. Thank you for your concern.

The survey required students to input ID numbers so that people did not complete the survey more than once. Additionally, while the article does not mean to say that literally 78% of the entire student body supports the proposal, the 400+ amount of people that completed it from all four grades serves as a pretty accurate sample. 419 students participated. The survey was distributed by being posted on the Paly Voice, being posted on facebook statuses, and most importantly, being messaged out to all four classes' facebook groups by their class officers. All the survey asked was if students support having finals before or after winter break, because we wanted to get the largest amount of participation possible by getting simple data. Yes, we could have looked at other variables such as college applications, but those were covered in other parts of the story, which the survey was not designed to do.


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Posted by PandP
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 27, 2010 at 6:39 pm

As a survey researcher, let me just say that this so-called survey is absolutely useless. There is absolutely no way to tell what is its targeted population since respondents self-selected into the survey through various media outlets. It tell us absolutely NOTHING about how Palo Alto high school students think. It tells us only what students who visit PALY VOICE only and have facebook accounts AND BOTHERED TO FILL OUT THIS QUESTIONNAIRE feel about the survey. Does this represent (statistically speaking) the general population of Paly High school students? Not likely.


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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of another community
on Oct 27, 2010 at 6:53 pm

Parent, you are correct that the college application process is equivalent to taking an extra class. The solution to that is for seniors to reduce their course load in the fall semester. That is what happens at many private schools, and PA seniors would likely benefit from it as well. Then it wouldn't be quite so hard to finish everything before break (though good planning and an early start can help a lot too).

I must say, however, that although I'm in favor of pre-break finals, I like the idea of starting school after Labor Day and having the first semester finals be in early February. That could be a good solution for everyone--stressed students, parents who want longer summer vacations, etc. Perhaps this could formally be proposed as a solution.


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Posted by PandP
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 27, 2010 at 6:57 pm

Dear Nadav... one more thing. Your "survey" may well have also committed what survey researchers call "selecting on the dependent variable." Just think about it. You distributed your questionnaire online. (As an anecdotal insert: I have two students at PALY neither were aware that Paly Voice has an online presence and neither belong to their class' facebook pages.) Who are the students that are most likely to fill out such a questionnaire? The ones that are active on facebook and those that follow your online newspaper (bless their hearts for doing so) AND THOSE THAT BOTHERED TO SPEND THEIR TIME RESPONDING TO THESE QUESTIONS. I'm guessing - and admittedly - this is a wild guess, that this is not going to be the most studious students of them all. They are likely to be busy doing homework and applying for college right now. So, your problem is not that you left out other independent variables, but that you selected students who spent sufficient amount of time social networking and filling out online surveys. Are we surprised that such students support having a work-free vacation over December? I think not. But please don't be fooled into believing that this represents PALY students as large.


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Posted by Nadav G
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 27, 2010 at 8:47 pm

I don't think that saying that students 'who spent sufficient amount of time social networking and filling out online surveys' would clearly select the pre-winter break finals is a fair statement at all.

Assuming that the students who took the survey are "not the most studious of them all" is an absurd assumption with absolutely no backing. The Campanile and all Paly publications are read by a diverse assortment of students at school as well as online. Filling out a survey that takes thirty seconds or less is not exactly a huge distraction from college applications and homework. Paly students are usually eager to participate in such opportunities. Additionally, the survey was filled out by students from all grades, including 9th-11th, who are not busy with applications.

I do agree that the survey could have been distributed through other methods, including paper surveys in classrooms to get an even more diverse sample. But I do think that reaching 400 students at a high school where a huge amount of students have a Facebook account was a good way to measure this. Just because the 400 students who took time to complete the survey did so online does not render the data even remotely useless. A lot of Paly students are on Facebook, and got the message because they were in their classes group. For the next time we conduct a survey, we should definitely alter our survey-taking methods that have been in place for several users by using paper surveys for students in classrooms as well. Thanks!


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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 27, 2010 at 8:50 pm

From the article: "The calendar issue has aroused passionate opinions from all sides, with some arguing the change would add stress as well as interfere with summer and holiday family trips and others saying that giving students a clean break over the holidays makes the tradeoffs worthwhile."

A baloney sandwich would arouse passionate opinions from all sides in Palo Alto. I asked my kid (Gunn junior) how she felt about exams before or after. Her response - "either sounds fine." Sounds like a good policy to me.


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Posted by Melissa Herron
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 27, 2010 at 9:16 pm

In response to Me Too,
The fact that 400+ students shows that students do care and that this is a topic that should be brought up... I am a sophomore and I responded to the survey thinking that I should offer my honest opinion on the subject... besides you are parents who are attacking this kid, Nadav, because he decided to write an article that will obviously affect the whole student body and actually did research on it. Yes, they could have handed the survey out in a more efficient way, thank you for the criticize I am sure that they will take it but it comes down to this... we are the ones taking the finals... we are the ones dealing with the stress and we are the ones who should decide whether or not to have finals before break with the help of our administrations guidance, not the parents...


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Posted by Paly Senior
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 27, 2010 at 10:13 pm

The effort put forward by the students of Paly to understand their own stance as a school community should not be mocked.
As a Paly senior, I took this survey online and helped spread the word about it through Facebook. As a student 4.3 GPA, who started the application process in June of her junior year, and also as a student who spends (regretfully) a considerable amount of time on Facebook, I have to say that the attacks against The Campanile's "meaningless" survey are baseless. True, it may not be a completely random selection of Paly student opinion --because there is not such thing as truly "random" as I have learned from an AP Stats course-- the survey still sheds light on what Paly students hope to have as winter break schedule with over 400 separate people, over 20% of the student population, responding to the survey.
In the end, I will be content with either result (pre-break or post-break finals) –what concerns me is the notion that the adult community here does not seem to take the opinion and overall efforts of the students to understand the situation that seriously. We are learning and growing, and though The Campanile staff did make some errors in survey distribution, I still commend my peers for their sincere efforts.


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Posted by Surveys are hard to read & harder to give
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 27, 2010 at 10:13 pm

Nadav,

One of my concerns, again, is whether students really knew before they voted exactly what would be in store for them with the change, like all the concerns pointed out in the posts above.

It is hard to imagine they could have given all the hand wringing the board members and staff went through at the board meeting last night, all who left the discussion with tons of unanswered questions.


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Posted by Nadav G
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 27, 2010 at 10:26 pm

To "surveys are"
We did not make an effort to educate the students about the proposal because the purpose of the survey was to find out a very basic, preliminary answer.
Would students prefer finals to be before or after winter break?
The extra information was not as important to us in this phase of the investigation because we wanted to see what students would prefer as a base-regardless of the details. Then, in follow up interviews with students and teachers, we heard concerns about college applications, summer break timing with special programs, and when grades would be due.


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Posted by no skin in this game any more, just wisdom
a resident of Meadow Park
on Oct 28, 2010 at 6:46 am

Nadav, good job. At least you tried, and all the students who answered the question deserve kudos also. Ok, not a professional survey etc, but so what? You tried.

As for the Board and parents around here...make a decision that is best for all high school students and move forward. I love the comment by someone above "Palo Alto would get worked up about a Bologna Sandwich"..SO TRUE!

This has been at least 5 years in the wringer..just do it and see how it flies.

I am betting 90% of the kids are much happier getting a full-stop rest, than using it as an excuse to fall on so as not to "keep up" before winter break. ( I can do that during my "break" thinking).

Teach the kids time management, and how to balance work with full-stop rests. Or, does Palo Alto really want to raise the next generation of adults who pull "working vacations", laptop and cell phone in hand, squeezing a little rest with the family between conference calls and late night work while on "vacation" in Tahoe?

Ask the kids who have gone off to colleges with semester ends pre-winter break which way they would have liked for Gunn/Paly. These guys have now done it both ways.

Or, just use your heads and do it.


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Posted by no skin in this game any more, just wisdom
a resident of Meadow Park
on Oct 28, 2010 at 6:54 am

BTW, in thinking about those High School folks most likely to respond to a survey..I would suspect it is kids most likely to follow through on everything else as well. Thus, most likely the most stressed kids in school..

just a counterpoint to the comment raised above about Facebook users. I suspect that poster has not had kids go through the local high schools yet, and learn that virtually EVERY kid has a facebook account, and checks it, even for a brief time, daily.


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Posted by Finals?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 28, 2010 at 8:32 am



Nadav G,

good for you for taking the comments well, but no need for the other students to whine about the objections

the 4.3 that spends a lot of time on Facebook must not do a sport, something has to give when you spend a lot of time on FB


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Posted by EcoMama
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 28, 2010 at 8:36 am

I'm a parent who's spoken up as adamantly against this change. It screws seniors who are in the middle of the most stressful time of their lives -- college applications -- and also screws any student who chooses to be in performing arts with its end-of-year performances. It screws students and teachers by putting them in overheated classrooms at the worst time of the year, it screws parents out of summer camp opportunities so that they have to struggle to find childcare (find me a camp that's open June 1 -- they don't exist!), and it screws families out of the month of August, which is when a lot of corporations scale back for vacations. I don't see how this system really works for anyone except high school freshman, sophomores and juniors MAYBE ... and last I checked, we also have K-8 students and those college-applying seniors for whom this change is not so favorable.

Here's what I'd like the school board to explain: Why can't the calendar be moved in the other direction? Sync our schedule with the rest of the world by starting after Labor Day and ending later in June -- which also relates to more favorable temperature conditions in this area so that hot classrooms aren't a problem. Then ban homework over winter break and hold finals in late-Jan./early Feb. If homework/studying over break is the issue, make it clear to teachers that it can't be given/assigned. With finals a month later, students aren't going to be pressured to do work over their break.

Why do we always have to try to be different here in Palo Alto? Maybe the East Coast has it figured out right, and we could learn a thing or two from the fact that we're not hearing about student stress in, say, New Jersey. When are finals in most of their high schools? Late January.


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Posted by finals?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 28, 2010 at 9:13 am



no to mention that everyone gets sick at that time of year, and the "break" in pre-break is relative

maybe the Paly survey can ask another random batch of 400 students, or even the ones that already responded, to choose between the pre-break finals and the EcoMama option,

FInals in February has a good sound to it




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Posted by paly parent
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 28, 2010 at 9:51 am

Ecomama - The BOE has already said that homework is not to be given over Break and that nothing should be due the first week back from Winter Break, but teachers ignore it. There are often group projects which are assigned in December, due in January, that the kids work on over Break because it is really hard to coordinate outside time for project during the regular school week.

I love the idea of starting after Labor Day and having finals later January/Early February. August is just not a school month.


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Posted by PandP
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 28, 2010 at 11:54 am

Nadav, the issue is not that you did not get enough people to respond to your survey. The point was that your sample is not representative of the general population of PALY students. Surveys done online, through magazines are rarely representative of anything - to be honest, not even the readership of those magazines. We don't know who filled out those surveys, who did not fill them out, why they did not fill them out. Moreover, the point is not to get a representative sample of your magazine's readership, but to get a representative sample of PALY high school students. This you most likely have failed to do given your research design. Basic statistics 101. The results are, therefore, worthless.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 28, 2010 at 12:04 pm

"Are You Dreaming?" is missing a key point - most schools around the country have pre-Christmas finals. As do most colleges - other than Stanford and Harvard. Most east coast and mid-west colleges have a long winter break starting just before Christmas and including January, originally planned to save on heating costs and kept because it works well.

Homework to prepare for the next semester is significantly less stressful than studying for a final exam after the break.

The ideal K-12 school calendar is used in the Southern US - start early August and end mid-May. This means teachers and kids have the longest amount of time to prepare for national standardized tests (all in May), final exams are before Christmas, time after AP exams is not wasted waiting for the end of school, and there is the same amount of summer vacation. None of our kids in Palo Alto are needed for the harvest so there is no reason to start as late as we do.

This does not jive with the Stanford calendar, but it makes the most sense for our kids.

Also, any family that wants to travel during the summer will be thrilled to take advantage of lower air and hotel fares pre-June 15, tourist free European and Asian cities, and pleasant weather everywhere.


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Posted by Chris Kenrick, Palo Alto Weekly staff writer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 28, 2010 at 1:03 pm

Parent,

Both Stanford and Harvard do end their first terms before the December break. Harvard just switched over in the 2009-2010 academic year.


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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 28, 2010 at 1:23 pm

I saw a more complete report of the discussion at this week's school board meeting at Web Link if folks are interested.


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Posted by Are they dreaming?
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 28, 2010 at 1:25 pm

Fairmeadow parent,

Harvard doesn't really give many final exams anymore so when their break is doesn't really help us. For the few finals they do require, they give students 19 no-class days to prepare for and take them (aka dead week(s)); we give ours 4. Read the article the Boston Globe wrote about Harvard finals just a few weeks ago it titled "The Test Has Been Cancelled."
Web Link

Stanford is on the quarter system, so again not helpful when trying to extrapolate for PAUSD schools which are on the semester system.

I don't mean to be disrespectful, but since you weren't correct on Stanford and Harvard, please provide your authority on the "most schools in the country have pre-break finals" statement so we can tell whether it is or is not in error too.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 28, 2010 at 2:14 pm

One aspect that I haven't seen mentioned is that although we may be talking about making semesters different lengths, there are a lot of days in the second semester which are not instructional days but testing days. We have CAHSEE, STAR tests, AP tests, all of which are not instructional and cause days which can't be taken into account when comparing the length of the semesters.


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Posted by no skin in this game any more, just wisdom7
a resident of Meadow Park
on Oct 28, 2010 at 2:37 pm

It is difficult for me to take seriously any adult who is using the term "screwing" the kids of this or that.

There will always be kids/families who prefer the system we are on now..but they are no more ..um...inconvenienced..by a switch over than the kids are now who really need a true break.


The question is one of choices. When the calendar shifts back a bit, we live in a nation which, so far, allows enterprising individuals to come out of the woodwork to meet the needs of a population and get paid for it.

Somehow, I doubt that camp-free week or two will remain camp-free for long.

We also can make other choices for performing arts..kids who don't think they can manage the end of semester performing arts schedule can choose to not participate, just as those who choose to not participate in sports in favor of academics. Those who can do both, more power to them. Also, the kids can choose to put on their performing arts a few weeks ahead, in November, perhaps. They would have the extra August time to prepare, so that is not a problem.

But, the kids who have homework,projects and finals hanging over their heads all winter break have no choices. They are stuck with the system we have. They can't take their finals before break, can they, without having finished the course. And these are ALL our kids, not just the small percentage who choose to participate in sports or arts.

Time to quit talking about it, and just do it.

If after the trial period kids are begging for the pleasure of having their finals and projects hang over their heads all winter break again, then fine, back we go back.

What is the worst that can happen if we do it? We lose a few days of August vacation...and if it fails? We go back to the old schedule and gain those days back.

What is the worst that can happen if we don't?......no "recharge" time for exhausted and stressed kids...with all that means for the mental and physical health of our kids.

Been there under the system you have now....the consequences of the stress load on kids is immense..just change it and try it.






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Posted by Finals?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 28, 2010 at 4:31 pm



Are they dreaming?

perfect article about the fact that Final exams are pedagogically going the way of the dinosaur!!!! THE BAD news is that almost ALL the Palo Alto experience is stuck in it, and too invested to change, learning in steadier and smaller increments does not mean smaller brains, it means smarter learners

“With final exams, it’s study, study, study. Take the exam — and now it’s gone. Move on,” said Linda Serra Hagedorn, a professor at Iowa State University and president-elect of the Association for the Study of Higher Education. “The better approach is to have a more holistic approach to learning where it’s smaller increments, where one learns in steadier and smaller increments.”


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Posted by Finals?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 28, 2010 at 4:34 pm


referring to the article "The test has been cancelled" about Harvard not really giving final exams anymore


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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of University South
on Oct 28, 2010 at 5:07 pm

@noskininthegame--the big deal is that those of us with skin in the game--in particular, folks with current sophomores who will be juniors and seniors under the new calendar--can't get a do-over for our kids. And we have real reason to believe this change will hurt our kids, so we actually would like to see some evidence that it will do more good than harm before "just doing it". The district hasn't given us that evidence, and should withdraw this proposal until they do their own homework.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 28, 2010 at 6:12 pm

It is important that, as parents, we make whatever is decided work. Let's not stress out kids and brainwash them into thinking it is bad (either way). It seems that PA parents get WAY too stressed out about everything. I was originally for finals before winter break, but at this point, I don't even care either way. I need to make my kids resilient enough to deal either way and not focus on all the problems.


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Posted by finals?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 28, 2010 at 7:53 pm



"Let's not stress out kids and brainwash them into thinking it is bad (either way)."

yeah, let's just experiment!! then what, survey?

experiment with no finals
experiment with consequences for a teacher that still gives homework over the break

yes, parents get WAY stressed, and isn't that the reason for this idea in the first place, to reduce stress?

is stress an issue or not?

if not, then leave things as they are





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Posted by no skin in this game any more, just wisdom
a resident of Meadow Park
on Oct 30, 2010 at 7:03 am

Paly Parent:

I understand what you are saying. It IS an end-game for those kids. On the other hand, many have kids for whom this end-game is completely exhausting them,with no time to rest and re-charge the entire year.

It works both ways. Whatever we do affects many kids and families.

The time has come to make a decision. Not changing is one decision, changing is another.

If you haven't had kids go through their Junior year yet, you might want to listen to those who have already gone onward..if not parents, then to other students who have gone forward into universities with semesters ending before winter break.

Your kids will truly thank you for a real rest when the time comes, if this goes through. They will learn to work hard and complete their work on time, AND to balance hard work with a real break. And, they will return to the second semester rested and ready to "do it again", instead of dragging into January projects and finals, then trying to keep up the energy for the second semester.

But, again, that is my experience, and my advice. No skin in the game in my own kids any more.




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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of University South
on Nov 1, 2010 at 12:10 pm

@noskin--I actually have gone through junior/senior years with one child, and am about to do it again, and then yet again. That's why I am so strongly opposed to these changes in the calendar--a little additional "rest" over the winter holiday will by no means make up for the incredible stress added to my child's life in the weeks before it. I remember thinking during the busy preholiday period last year, thank goodness that change in finals didn't go through, it would have been a disaster for my kids.
I know how busy these years are, and the proposed changes will make them more, not less, stressful for my children.


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