Opinion: Why Fix What Wasn’t Broken?

by Tom McAdrle
Class of 2015

On January 20, 2015, Braintree High School students arrived for their mid-year exams at 7:30 in the morning, a new experience to many accustomed to 9:30 exam start times of years past. This marked the first attempt at executing the new mid-year and final exam schedule, which requires students to arrive earlier on some of the most stressful days of the school year. The mid-year exams have come and passed, and while the new system may have worked sufficiently, was it really worth changing?

The most criticized portion of the new exam schedule has been the start times of the exams; all exams begin at 7:45, requiring students to be in school by 7:30, the same time they are expected to arrive on an average school day. In the past, exams did not begin until 9:30 in the morning, giving students at least another hour worth of sleep and preparation for important tests. Most students do not get enough sleep on school nights as it is, between homework, after school athletics, and jobs. The opportunity for students to feel well rested, even when going into the most stressful test of the school year, is one of the mid-year and final exams’ most appealing qualities. By starting the exams earlier, students were sleepier and overall less prepared for critical thinking, a skill that is in high demand during these exams. The public school system preaches getting an adequate amount of sleep each night as a method of succeeding in school; while it may not seem like a large difference, students know that arriving to school at 9:15 is a breath of fresh air from constant 7:30 start times, and that the school should give its students every opportunity to succeed on exam days, not eliminate one of the only benefits.

One of the crucial parts of the new schedule was to eliminate some of the safety concerns for students with the breaks in between exams. In years past, half the school would be filtered into the auditorium or gym foyer while the other half ate lunch for roughly twenty-minute periods; the two halves would switch so other students would have an opportunity to eat before the second exams began. This system was scratched for what appeared to be a thirty-minute, minimally supervised break for students, who had the opportunity to explore the entire building. The only other instances the entire student body is unleashed on the building like that for longer than three minutes are the beginning and end of a school day, when most are either on their way to homeroom or leaving the building. In the past, at least groups of students were concentrated in two areas and, should a safety concern arise, teachers and other school officials would know exactly where to be. Now, thirty minutes is a long time to allow students to roam the school free; if a student needs medical attention, it could take longer for school officials to recognize the situation and send appropriate help.

Under the new schedule, the school no longer allows students to purchase lunch in between exams. Obviously, students can bring food from home if they need a snack, but the opportunity to buy food to keep themselves alert in between two highly stressful test periods should not be overlooked. Remember; some students cannot afford to bring lunch from home, one of the main reasons schools serve lunch in the first place. This opportunity should not be denied on a day when it may be most sorely needed.

Trying to condense one of the most stressful school days of the year into roughly half the time spent on a normal school day is difficult enough as it is. Requiring students to be in school earlier, making the between exam break less supervised, and eliminating a basic school lunch is not truly doing everything in the school’s power to help students succeed at immensely important tests. During the most stressful times of each school year, the students deserve a break; at least before, solace was found in the elementary school-esque 9:30 start times. Now, students recognize they are in and out of school earlier, but it comes at the cost of crucial hours of sleep and preparation that are sorely needed for important exams.

Tom McArdle is a student in Advanced Placement Language and Composition