Forum Discusses Assessment Week Difficulties, Questions Definition of ‘Major Assignment’

Philomathean Society recently hosted a forum titled “Assessing Assessment Week,” in which students, faculty, and administration representatives discussed the pros and cons of the new system. Panelists included Bruce Bacon, Chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance; John Rogers, Dean of Studies; and several other faculty members. A recent Phillipian poll indicated that 64% of students were dissatisfied with the new system, which was initially proposed by Chair of the English Department John Stableford and implemented by Mr. Bacon and Mr. Rogers, who was appointed as Dean of Studies last March. The previous assessment system only offered blocks during finals week to courses with final examinations and not to those that had final projects or papers. “The feeling was that courses without exams were being shortchanged,” said Mr. Bacon. Another problem addressed by the newer Assessment Week system was the issue of unused days in classes after final projects were due. Mr. Rogers said, “Under the Dean’s Week schedule, you could have had a final project due the Monday of the last week. What do you then do with the last few classes?” The panelists also emphasized the predictability of the new schedule. “Students can now schedule their travel plans earlier in the year,” said Betsy Korn, Associate Dean of Studies. “Assume you will be here all Assessment Week.” The program is not without its detractors, though. Pete Smith ’07 said, “I feel like we created a new mess, another thing to clean up. [Assessment Week] is another system that does the same thing.” An issue raised was the appropriation of time to classes without final projects. The Assessment Week schedule dictates that teachers should use their section’s period in an academically meaningful way. Carolyn Brown ’09 said, “The fact that the teachers felt the need to use the assessment period as a space filler created more stress.” Some teachers have also had trouble with the definition of a major assignment, as students in some history courses complained about having both a term paper and a final exam. Sometimes an extra test is called a quiz to fit the new schedule’s parameters. “You shouldn’t have major assignments due in both the Assessment Week and the last class week in one class,” said Mr. Rogers. “We need to find out if teachers are playing by the rules.” Ms. Korn said that the creation of the Student Academic Advisory Council now made it easier for students to find help if teachers were exploiting the system. Yoni Gruskin ’07, Co-Head of Philomathean Society, asked if final exams were being watered down by the presence of more final papers and projects during that week. Martin Serna ’07 said that his brother, a Junior, had six assessments during Assessment Week. The panelists indicated that Assessment Week made marathon studying difficult. Finals that re-quire long hours of studying in preparation might have less of a priority with other final papers and projects due the same day. “I’m not sure things would have been any easier under the old schedule. Too much is being blamed on Assessment Week,” said Mrs. Korn. “The end of term is always difficult,” said Mr. Rogers. “We’re trying to sort out how it’s actually going. We want to find out how much [stress] was a result of Assessment Week.” Despite the various complaints, the Academic Council has no plans to eliminate Assessment Week, though some alterations and revisions will be made for next academic year. “Academic Council is working on a revision with student feedback over the summer. We’re also surveying all the departments in our review,” said Mr. Rogers. The newly created Student Academic Advisory Council proposed and was granted the ending of classes on a Monday for next Winter Term, with a reading day on the Tuesday before Assessment Week begins. The panelists also vowed not to repeat the final Friday night of Winter Term, where the library and other places of study closed as if no assessments were taking place on Saturday. “We’re working to fix that at AdCom,” said Dean of Faculty Temba Maqubela. “It was not a good thing.”