South Florida Sun Sentinel | By Scott Travis | December 7, 2021
The week before Winter Break has just gotten a lot longer for Broward’s high school students.
Students will be expected to attend school for a full day on Dec. 14 to Dec. 17 when they take final exams.
In past years, students took two exams in the morning and usually left by lunchtime.
What they’ll do during those extra three hours will likely vary by school and teacher, with some teachers starting new material, others prepping students for exams and others allowing them to use it as a study hall.
The school district decided to go full days after realizing schools were slightly under the required number of hours for the semester and school year.
Students must be in school the equivalent hours of 180 school days per year, and each single semester class must be at least 60 hours.
But the decision was just announced at many schools last week, angering students, parents and teachers. They said it takes away time for studying, deprives students of a more relaxed exam week, removes times for teachers to grade papers and disrupts schedules for parents who had planned for their children to be home earlier.
“Students are not happy about this,” said Raymond Adderly, a senior at Fort Lauderdale High and the student representative on the School Board. “They are super upset there’s no half-day. They’re trying to make sense [of] why they take tests in the morning and then have class in the afternoon.”
Adam Herman, whose daughter attends Fort Lauderdale High, said he doesn’t think exam days are a good time to do instruction.
“Teaching and learning new material in the afternoon after three hours of testing in the morning is pointless,” he said.
He said comments on Facebook groups suggest “for the most part, suggest that students will be checked out figuratively speaking, if not literally, as many parents have stated they plan to sign their student out.”
At Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, many students are expected to sign out after they take morning exams. However, regular instruction is still expected to happen after lunch.
“I thought it was weird because just all of a sudden they expect teachers to be teaching during mid-terms,” said Logan Rubenstein, a senior at Stoneman Douglas. “I have no reason to stay on campus. I’m probably going to sign out after exams.”
Melissa Falkowski, an English teacher at Stoneman Douglas, said she expects to only have about five students per class. She hasn’t decided what she’ll teach during the afternoon classes and may just allow students to use it to study for other exams.
But other schools are making it more difficult to skip part of the day, by spreading out the two exams over the full school day.
At Cooper City High, students will take one two-hour exam in the morning and one in the afternoon. Before each exam, there will be a one-hour exam review. Cypress Bay High in Weston is doing the same, except the hour before the exam will also be used for social and emotional learning, according to its website.
“I’ll miss the half days,” said Fallan Patterson, an English teacher at Cooper City High. “They were good for morale, allowed teachers to get the exams and other work graded prior to the break and provided much-needed planning time.”
It’s unclear why the school district decided to announce this change so late. It was never brought up to the district’s Calendar Committee, which made recommendations last year for the current school year, members said.
“The exam schedules are not part of what is included in the calendar the Board adopts. The calendar references that exams will occur prior to Winter Break, but doesn’t speak to them being partial days,” Jeff Moquin, chief of staff for the school district, wrote to Board member Lori Alhadeff in a Friday email. “Next year, we will need to just communicate earlier if it is necessary again.”
Some years, the district has faced fines from the state of more than $1 million for failing to offer enough class time for high school seniors — who end the school year earlier than students in other grades.
The school district was aware at the start of the school year it was possibly short instructional hours and added one minute to each high school class period by shortening breaks.